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Posted on Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Cosi closing on Ann Arbor's South State as La Marsa restaurant leases space for 5th Michigan location

By Paula Gardner


Cosi has operated at State near Liberty in Ann Arbor for nine years. files

Cosi will close on South State Street in Ann Arbor by Jan. 31, when the new tenants — partners in a string of Oakland County Middle Eastern restaurants — will start converting the space into their fifth location.

La Marsa Mediterranean Cuisine cuisine should open at 301 S. State St. by early May, said Fidel Gannouni, a co-owner.

“We want to make the place nice,” Gannouni said. “… You’ll think you’re in Dubai or Egypt.”

Signing the deal for the space at the end of November ended a two-year search for a space in Ann Arbor, Gannouni said. His two partners in the venture are Moe el-Nagar and Adel Ahmed.

Part of it was the location near campus, though he said he wants to attract non-student customers as well, he said.

And part of the draw to Ann Arbor was its reputation among his clientele and in his homeland of North Africa, he added.

“Everyone back home always raves about Ann Arbor.”

cosi.jpg files

The move into the building near East Liberty comes nine years after Cosi, based in the Chicago area, opened in the location.

Building owner Ed Davidson would not comment on why Cosi was leaving. Corporate officials did not return a call seeking comment.

However, Davidson said, La Marsa “is going to be a great addition to the street.”

The location will give the street another sit-down restaurant option. That’s important as multiple fast-food outlets open on South State, sending some theater-goers and Hill Auditorium patrons toward Main Street when they attend events near South State.

Davidson, who also owns and operates Bivouac on South State, said there was lots of interest in the space.

“Because it’s on the magic street,” he said of all of the pedestrian traffic there.

But, he added, he “had to be aggressive at finding people who fit the bill and not be fast food.”

The move, he said, "will fill a void in a spot that I own but also add to the street and bring people down here."

He believes he found it in La Marsa, which Gannouni says tries to create a memorable dining experience.

"We want to make this place nice," he said. Patrons will be greeted by staff, there will be table service, and food will not be served with plastic tableware or on paper plates."

The menu will feature many Mediterranean favorites, with higher-end dishes offered alongside lunch specials. All means focus on healthy ingredients, Gannouni said.

Cosi [NasdaqGM: COSI] is a fast-casual chain that has about 140 locations in 18 states, about 40 percent of which are franchises. Its market capitalization as of market close on Monday was $58.1 million, based on a per-share price of $1.14.

The company was warned that it could face Nasdaq delisting over the summer, as its stock price fell to 49 cents.

Cosi’s third-quarter net loss was $1.096 million, down from a net loss of $2.36 million a year earlier.

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.



Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 11:34 p.m.

@A2K: That's very true. However, when I see a menu that looks like that, with a logo that looks like that, my first thought is that they're trying to imitate La Shish in other culinary respects as well.


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

Just because many Middle-Eastern dishes between cultures have the same name - does does not mean the foods have the same flavors. I can tell you from experience that there's a wealth of difference between, Iranian, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese, Israeli, Egyptian etc. cuisines...but many dishes have the same or very similar names, and even more variation by town/region...for example my Nothern-Armenian relatives have more Georgian-influenced dishes, the American-Armenian relatives cook more Greek/Turkish influenced dishes. Many of the Middle-Eastern restaurants in Michigan have food flavored in the Lebanese style, so it may seem like the food is the same.


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 8:55 a.m.

(However, even a La Shish clone beats a national chain in my book)


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 8:54 a.m.

It isn't Tunisian cuisine. If you follow the links and look at the menu, it's an utter La Shish clone (the logo is a direct ripoff of La Shish, except it says "Marsa" instead of "Shish"). It's got one specific Egyptian dish that I noticed, but the rest is all of the old La Shish standards. I wish they'd do a full-on Tunisian (or Egyptian, for that matter) restaurant, instead of trying to be La Shish all over again.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 6:39 p.m.

It would be great if it's actual Tunisian cuisine!


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:05 p.m.

I wish them well, but can't help but notice that the last thing needed in Ann Arbor is another restaurant. The existing ones struggle to survive, as it is. As far as Ed Davidson goes, he will lease to the highest bidder, local or otherwise, from what I've heard. That's one reason you have to hang on to your wallet, when buying just about anything on State St. All the rich students with daddy's money are easy marks for folks like Ed.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

Hail! Hail! To Ann Arbor the food court of the west.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 3:44 p.m.

I'd say that's too bad, except I got the worst case of food poisoning in my life at Cosi and I've never been able to eat their food since.

Atticus F.

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 2:34 p.m.

Now after reading Ed's link, I'm horrified this will be nothing more than a glorified La Shish. Or even worse, a generic La Shish.

Atticus F.

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

Somewhat concerned, The cuisine also varies greatly in the Mediteranian as well... The dish I mentioned earlier had Southern Italian influences, as well as greek and other. I do wish them well though. And I hope they bring something UNIQUE and wonderful to the area.

Somewhat Concerned

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 2:12 p.m.

Where exactly is the owner from? "North Africa" is a big place, across which the cuisines vary greatly. It will be nice to see a place unlikely to be as cookie-cutter and bland as Cosi move in. Welcome to Ann Arbor.

Atticus F.

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 2:07 p.m.

I disagree ChimCham. Zanzibar was a fusion of Mediteranian and North African food that was unique and very well thought out. But maybe I'm wrong and people are actually looking for something more traditional as far as ethnic cuisine goes. I'll never forget the dish at Zanzibars that contained Shrimp, feta, and tomatoes, served over fried pollenta...I still wake up dreaming of dish that sometimes.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 12:56 p.m.

It seems to me that the main food business in this are is lunch, not dinner, and the question is if this kind of place will work. I will be sorry to see Cosi go--it was not bad for a chain, and certainly much better than the nondescript Panera stuff.

Chim Cham

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 12:11 p.m.

the problem with Zanzibar was the food was very bland, a mediocre mediterranean. If this place really uses spicy middle eastern, people will like it. Does this place keep the liquor license??

Atticus F.

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 11:58 a.m.

I just don't see the demand for a 'high end' middle eastern restaruant in that area. maybe I'm missing something. If Zanzibar could not keep it's doors open, I find it hard to believe that a place that serves couscous, falafel, and tabouli can survive in such a high rent area.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 11:08 a.m.

If they serve Maghrebi food, do hope that they offer Tagine on their daily menu!!!!!

Rob Pollard

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

Good luck to the new restaurant. Glad to see it's a metro Detro business. Also a bit mystified why Cosi never has done well (overall, not just in Ann Arbor). Panera just has blown their doors off. Thus, I did a quick search, and found this quick article, for those interested: In short, Panera has better, more experienced and consistent management who had higher expectations for store owners and expanded in a methodical fashion geographically (as opposed to Cosi, which sprinkled stores all over the place, w/o a critical mass).

Phil Dokas

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

A great job by Ed Davidson on holding out for a local business who can add some diversity to State Street!


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

MMmmm, can't wait to try the new place - I hope they serve GOOD lamb *hard to find decent lamb dishes in this town*.