This company's cookeries are putting a West Coast twist on an old favorite. California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) operates a chain of about 265 casual-dining restaurants that specialize in gourmet pizzas featuring unique topping combinations, including duck, barbecued chicken, and grilled shrimp. The chain also serves Neapolitan pizzas from Italy, as well as American-style pies. CPK rounds out its menu with pastas, soups, salads, and desserts. The restaurants are found in more than 30 states and about a dozen other countries; more than 200 of the locations are company-owned. Private equity firm Golden Gate Capital acquired CPK in 2011.
Like many other dining operators, CPK has struggled with declining sales during recent years due largely to the recession, high unemployment, and the effect of the mortgage crisis in its core markets in California and Florida. Early in 2010, the company announced it was exploring a variety of alternatives including putting itself up for sale. Golden Gate Capital, whose restaurant holdings already included On The Border Mexican Grill and Romano's Macaroni Grill, paid about $470 million for CPK.
The majority of CPK's restaurants are full-service establishments mostly located in and around shopping centers and other retail and entertainment developments. That location strategy plus the chain's focus on gourmet pizza puts the company in competition with a broad range of dining operators, including traditional and ethnic-themed casual-dining chains (Applebee's, P.F. Chang's), fast food outlets (namely #1 pizza chain Pizza Hut), and fast casual eateries (Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread). Through an agreement with Autogrill Group (doing business as HMSHost), CPK also has about a dozen quick-service kiosk locations at airports.
The company's food product licensing business, meanwhile, continues to provide a steady stream of income while helping to promote the California Pizza Kitchen brand in the frozen food aisle. Food company Nestlé took over as CPK's licensed manufacturer in 2010 when it acquired the frozen pizza business of Kraft Foods.
Co-chairman Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield, who together own nearly 10% of the business, started CPK in 1985. Formerly partners in a law practice, they left the legal profession and opened their first restaurant in Beverly Hills hoping to capitalize on the growing interest in California-style pizza being fostered by chefs such as Wolfgang Puck. The co-founders continue to be deeply involved in the development of new menu items and the duo is expected to stay in charge even if Golden Gate Capital acquires CPK. – less