For courageous Fools interested in checking out a firm with "long-standing challenges," including concerns regarding "overall system economics," look no further than former market highflier Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (NYSE:KKD).      

Krispy Kreme isn't nearly as sweet as it used to be, and you know things are grim when its few bragging points include the timely quarterly results it's filed for two whole consecutive quarters now. To be fair, though, Krispy Kreme is seeing other glimmers of hope, even if it still has major work to do.

For the first quarter, total sales fell 7.1%, including sales made at company-owned stores, franchise fees, and revenue from selling doughnut mix and related equipment to all factory stores. Most sales metrics continued their negative trends, but franchise revenue grew nearly 10%, and average weekly sales at company stores increased 3.4%.

Krispy Kreme reported another earnings loss, but it was able to keep generating positive operating cash flow. The company brought in more money from disposing of property and equipment than it spent on capex to maintain current operations, and it even opened a net nine stores. On another positive note, the company refinanced its term debt, estimating that it will save more than 4% on the annual interest rate it must pay on its hefty debt load.

As management works to lay past issues to rest, there's still appeal in running a doughnut shop. Certain Krispy Kreme stores have been around since 1937, enjoying a loyal following long before the chain attempted to become a global franchise. Dunkin' Donuts has a fiercely loyal customer base in certain markets, as does Canadian chain Tim Hortons (NYSE:THI), recently set free from the Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) burger chain. Doughnuts are also a staple snack for consumers frequenting convenience stores run by Casey's General Stores (NASDAQ:CASY) and The Pantry (NASDAQ:PTRY).

Overall results remain sour, given numerous franchise restructuring costs, other "impairment charges and least termination costs," and litigation settlement charges related to past improprieties. However, sweeter signs are definitely emerging, and management appears to have a realistic realization that Krispy Kreme's long-standing challenges are serious. As a result, it's being careful to avoid anything that could derail it from recapturing at least a crumb of its former glory.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.