Hip cafe operator Cosi (NASDAQ:COSI) has certainly been busy since I took a look at the company to close out 2003. Apart from striking up an interesting partnership with Federated Department Stores' (NYSE:FD) Macy's chain, it's revealed an updated restaurant design, moved into the franchise business, added three new board members, and raked in a $20 million equity investment.

All were likely much-needed developments at the onetime trendy IPO darling that quickly turned ugly duckling. Yesterday, after the market's close, meanwhile, it rolled out the latest bit of news that, when taken together with the balance of its announcements, make an investment in Cosi look a lot -- ah, heck with it -- cozier than it did just a few months ago.

I'm talking about the company's fiscal first-quarter (ended March 29) financial results, which looked much improved over year-ago figures. Same-store sales continued to grow, but that's in many ways old news; what's more notable here is the company's ability to trim expenses. Restaurant operating expenses as a percentage of sales were 64.7% during the quarter, better than the 65.5% it managed during last year's quarter.

Cosi is still a ways away from net profit, though the company did manage to cut losses substantially. But if it can continue to grow same-store sales and show that its menu has traction, its concept -- a classier take on quick-service food that, one hopes, consumers will be willing to "pay up" for -- may help the company win back some of the fans who fled it after the IPO.

The company's shares have skyrocketed in 2004, perhaps indicating that the shreds of optimism hinted at to close out last year are meatier than they first looked.

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Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any of the companies in this article.