When you walk into a Così restaurant, you can close your eyes, inhale and let your senses guide you. The aroma of fresh-baked flat bread permeates every Così location as an enticing first step toward a unique dining experience. Smell is just one of the senses that will keep you coming back for more.The great atmosphere, food presentation and customer service are all part of the package that makes regulars out of most diners.

Così was founded 17 years ago, inspired by neighborhood Parisian cafes where the locals go to hang out with friends, grab a morning croissant, an afternoon sandwich or a casual dinner. The idea was to create many unique restaurants with the same exceptionally fresh menu, inviting décor and a friendly atmosphere. More than 130 restaurants later, Così is going strong by making sure each one of its locations fits that description.

Although there are Così restaurants in more than 16 states nowadays, John Gohde, vice president of development for Così, does not consider the restaurants a chain.

“We don’t have the cookie-cutter style of other fast-casual-dining places,” he explains. “Così has a more inviting, unique atmosphere, starting from our hearth with the enticing smell of baking bread to the warm colors of our décor and our friendly staff.”

Gohde believes that in order to be successful, the restaurants have to have three main areas of focus, all of them equally important: great food, great atmosphere and great customer service. “We see a lot of new restaurants that just put the effort in the environment,” he says.

Keeping it Interesting
There is nothing boring about Così’s menu. Every day of the week has a different soup – Monday is sausage and chicken with rice while Friday offers New England clam chowder.

The sandwich ingredients cover a wide array of blends and cuisines, from its new prosciutto and roasted veggie melt, made with layers of feta spread, fire-roasted vegetables, thinly sliced prosciutto and provolone – all warmed up – to Indian, which is interpreted as tandoori chicken, as well as the international allure of turkey and brie with spicy honey mustard. Salads also get high marks with the most recent creation, the Autumn Apple Chicken Salad which is made with hearth-roasted red apples, candied pistachios, feta cheese, grilled chicken, cranberries and a delicious caramel vinaigrette.

But Così’s secret weapon for success is its flat bread. Whether diners eat it in sandwich form, flat bread pizza or paired with soup and salad, the bread never disappoints. The flat bread, based on a 2,000-year-old recipe dating back to the Roman Empire, is baked fresh every 20 minutes at each restaurant location.

The menu is possible, in part, to a close partnership with Così’s suppliers. “Our suppliers make sure we have the freshest products in our restaurant,” Gohde explains. “We have a very close relationship with our product suppliers and we make sure they are active participants in our offerings. They are very excited about working with Così.”

The high quality of ingredients is what makes menu items like the recently featured Caribbean chicken salad, with jerk chicken, roasted corn and pineapple salsa, among other ingredients, a step above other fast-casual-dining experiences.

Human Touch
To achieve that neighborhood feeling, Così’s restaurants make sure their employees are trained in a very specific way. Gohde explains that the company uses various methods to train staff.

“We start off with the customer’s point of view inclusive of role playing and by supplementing it with the use of state-of-the art computerized training. A critical portion of the onsite training is our experienced teammates working with our new members of the Così restaurant family in helping them be comfortable with the entire guest interaction. Guests pick up on the fact very quickly if you aren’t genuine in your interest of serving them a great experience,” Gohde says. “We want to make sure everybody knows their role and has a deep understanding of what is important to our guest and Così. Most of all, we want each employee to have a really good relationship with each and every one of our customers so as to know them by name and what they enjoy from our menu.”

Gohde explains that by recruiting locally, Così is able to employ people who are part of the neighborhood. “Many of our employees not only know the customers by name, they also know their families and what is going on with their lives,” he says.

Beautiful Places
To complete the Così experience, the company puts just as much effort in the décor of each establishment as it does in the menu and customer service. The restaurants are painted in warm, inviting colors with light that emphasizes the different stations like the central hearth where the bakers work their magic and the “bakers” area where square bagels called “Squagels” await the morning crowds for breakfast.

“We want to make it very fluid, making sure the food moves and people don’t have to, and we continue to examine the process for improvements,” Gohde explains. “We want to maximize throughput, the freshness of our products and employees’ ease of productivity, but above all else, we want to make sure that our guests have an excellent dining experience.”

While Così is focusing on domestic markets with new locations opening not only in urban and suburban locations but also at universities and hospitals, it also has ventured internationally with units in Dubai and United Arab Emirates. It also has a five-year agreement in Costa Rica with the first restaurant opening in Multiplaza Escazú.