• PizzaMarketplace.com Top 100 Movers & Shakers, No. 9: California Pizza Kitchen

    Tags: Top 100

As the U.S. economy tanked so, too, did many shopping mall-based casual dining concepts. California Pizza Kitchen was one such concept that struggled through those two-plus years, with revenues down 3.5 percent in 2010, for example.

When the recession set in, spendthrift consumers also avoided higher price points and unique, gourmet-type offerings. This went against the very mission Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax put into place when they opened the first CPK. PizzaMarketplace's Top 100's expert panel believes consumers are now more open to trying new and different menu items, and have confidently voted for CPK's comeback.

The concept seems to be on a strong path of recovery, having been sold to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital for $470 million more than a year ago and naming G.J. Hart as its new CEO. Hart succeeds longtime friends and attorneys Rosenfield and Flax, who co-founded the chain in 1985 in Beverly Hills.

The company made about $645 million in 2011, a 2.4 percent rise from 2010, according to Technomic. It has also continued expanding its footprint in airports around the world, and adding freestanding units to get away from the fickle shopping mall business.

CPK also recently unveiled a new prototype this year, brought back its loyalty program, added philanthropic campaigns, increased its frozen retail line, added a food truck presence and innovated its food and beverage menu.

As buzzwords such as "artisan" and "gourmet" move into the mainstream, CPK has always offered the unique. Its Habanero Carnitas pizza, for example, features slow-roasted pulled pork, red onions, cilantro pesto, mozzarella and Queso Quesadilla cheese with spicy habanero salsa. There is also the Vegetarian with Japanese Eggplant, Pear and Gorgonzola, Tostada and Chipotle Chicken pizzas.

The centerpiece of the concept is the hearth, which gives the pizza its signature taste. CPK's hearth-baked pizzas are cooked quickly, generally for three to seven minutes, at 500 degrees. CPK also has an extensive appetizer menu, pastas, desserts, a children's menu, soups, salads, sandwiches, gluten-free offerings and more.

Download the complete PizzaMarketplace Top 100 Movers & Shakers.

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