What is in this article?:
- California Pizza Kitchen CEO details improvement plans
- Plans for further growth
G.J. Hart talks with NRN about moves the company is making to become California's "pizza authority"
G.J. Hart has been chief executive of California Pizza Kitchen for a little more than a year, working quietly on moves that he hopes will bring reinvigorating changes to the casual-dining brand in 2013.
In early December, the Los Angeles-based company debuted a new flagship location in Sunrise, Fla., at Sawgrass Mills mall that offers a “reimagined brand vision” for CPK’s future. While the chain plans to evaluate elements of the new design and menu before applying them systemwide, Hart said some aspects are ready to roll out.
By midyear in 2013, for example, all restaurants within the 266-unit chain will return to hand-tossing dough for pizza rather than using a dough press. And the menu systemwide has already started embracing a shift toward more innovative, seasonal and healthful dishes.
The design of the new 5,300-square-foot flagship attempts to capture what Hart describes as a “California mindset,” with a creative, hip and energetic atmosphere.
In a recent conversation with Nation’s Restaurant News, Hart described the new restaurant and talked about CPK’s efforts to become California’s "pizza authority."
How is the new restaurant in Sawgrass Mills different?
Pizza is our middle name, but over the years, the pizza oven hasn’t been as front and center as it should be. In the new restaurant, the first thing you see is our pizza oven with a pizza bar — not a traditional CPK design with a counter where you can sit and there’s a server/bartender with the oven back there somewhere. The oven is actually front and center. The pizza bar is almost like a sushi-style bar, where there’s interaction with the pizza cook and people can see the ingredients, and we’re very proud of those ingredients.
We’re hand-tossing the dough, which we historically had gotten away from, so each pizza is unique. We redid the dough. Now it’s a dough that we believe is more relevant, that accentuates the ingredients.
In addition, we’re rolling out a certification for pizza cooks so they can become chefs. We elevate their status. We give them a different uniform. We put their name on the oven and build interaction with guests.
On top of that, we will continue to bring innovative, creative pizzas to the marketplace with our California twist.
Can you give an example?
In Sawgrass, we’ve launched two new pizzas: a Brussels sprout and bacon pizza, and Korean pizza with slowly cooked roasted pork with a kimchi salad on top.
Also in that restaurant — this hasn’t rolled to the system yet — we have redone a lot of the other pizzas. Our mushroom pizza now has five types of mushrooms. We roast them in the oven and, if you want, you can get it with white truffle oil.
These are the things that will help us reclaim our pizza authority, but we hope to learn from this restaurant, adjust, and then start to backfill into the system as we test in different regions.
Does Sawgrass Mills have a separate bar component?
We’re really trying to take our beverage program to a new place. We have a bigger selection of wines. We hope to have an adventure side of our wine menu with some that are unique, or in limited quantities. We’ll do wine flights. We have upgraded our wine glasses.
We’ve also brought in craft beers, starting with California craft, but also some local beers. Lastly, we have reformulated all specialty cocktails, bringing some California vendors and companies.