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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 5 years ago

Pizza kitchen readies for seconds

The Golden State is in its name, but California Pizza Kitchen has an appetite for Florida.

The Golden State is in its name, but California Pizza Kitchen has an appetite for Florida.

The chain, says CEO G.J. Hart, specifically targets growth in two areas of the state: from Tampa south to Sarasota and Palm Beach south to Miami. California Pizza Kitchen has more than 230 locations nationwide, including 14 in Florida. Some of those, like the popular one at International Plaza in Tampa, have recently gone through major renovations, from walls and ceilings to menus and training protocols down to new glasses and silverware.

“The people in Florida have been really really good to CPK,” Hart tells Coffee Talk in a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles office. “We are excited about what Florida will bring us in the near future.”

Hart, who has a home Naples, also confirmed a long-heard rumor in area development: California Pizza Kitchen plans to open a location in Sarasota, likely in an outparcel of The Mall at University Town
Center, which opened Oct. 16. Hart declined to say much else on the location because the firm's real estate staff is in negotiations with potential landlords. Hart himself spent several days scouting locations in the Sarasota-Manatee area in early October with the firm's real estate team. He hopes to open a store in the Sarasota-Manatee region by the first quarter of 2016.

Hart says he could see the total count of CPKs in Florida doubling or even tripling eventually. He says the state's influx of tourists and retirees, all who come with a variety of tastes, are solid demographics for the chain, which boasts of dishes for “guests who seek the unique.”

The renovations and updated menus are what Hart calls CPK's next chapter. The firm was founded in Beverly Hills in 1985, went public in 2000 and was taken private by San Francisco-based equity firm Golden Gate Capital in 2011. Golden Gate named Hart, who previously ran the Texas Roadhouse steakhouse chain, CEO that same year and tasked him to redefine and elevate the CPK brand. The company, says Hart, had grown defensive in the mid- and late 2000s, when the economy slumped and customers went down-market for dining options. “CPK historically had been a leader in the marketplace,” says Hart. “We diverted from that a bit.”

The new look is highlighted with a menu that goes deeper than pizza. It includes lobster flatbread, rib-eye steak and multiple new and funky drink options. “People know California Pizza Kitchen for pizza, pasta and sandwiches,” says Hart. “We are more than that, and people will soon see that.”

This article was updated to reflect the correct number of California Pizza Kitchen stores in Florida.

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