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Starting the ‘next chapter’ at California Pizza Kitchen

After 30 years, California Pizza Kitchen kicks off an age-defying update.
cpk oprah chalkboard

California Pizza Kitchen turned 30 this year, and the brand that was “all about innovation” back in 1985 had begun to show its age, says CEO G.J. Hart. “We wanted to make it relevant again, especially to our core guests—millennials and sophisticated foodies—by bringing back that creative California mindset,” Hart says. The remodel, which Playa Vista, Calif.-based CPK is calling the “next chapter,” was tested at a California site before rolling out to Chicagoland.

In May, the CPK in downtown Chicago was overhauled in three weeks while the restaurant remained open. Crews came in at night to take down partitions, rip out carpeting, remove booths, install new lighting and expand the bar, working in sections to minimize disruption. The price tag for the remodel was $300,000, says Hart.

To reflect CPK’s California roots, sustainability was a goal in choosing materials, he says. Floors, tabletops and chairs are made of reclaimed wood, upholstery is woven from recycled fabrics and the entryway features an herb garden used by the chefs.

“The makeover also gave us a reason to pare down and update our menu,” says Hart. Entrees such as cedar-plank salmon and rib-eye steak were added, along with an expanded craft-cocktail and beer list. Lunch Duos (pairings of soups, salads, sandwiches and pizzas) already have boosted traffic.

The plan is to remodel 80 of CPK’s 200 units by the end of 2016. The new prototype also will be used for future builds, including a CPK now being erected in Summerlin, Nev., for about $1 million. 

cpk pizza toss

An open kitchen remains the focal point, but now there’s room to display ingredients and an even longer stone bar for more “hangout space,” says Hart. 

cpk wine

To draw attention to the wine selection, a display greets guests near the door.

cpk high top

Communal tables replace some booths for more flexible seating.


Concept: California Pizza Kitchen
Location: Chicago
Footprint: 4,625 square feet
Seating: 150
Key features: Flexible seating, chalkboard graphics, photos of Chicago landmarks, communal tables, reclaimed materials

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