California Pizza Kitchen founders Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax are switching gears with their new concept, casual-dining seafood restaurant Bottlefish. While the food and look are different from CPK, Rosenfield and Flax say they’ll use the relationships they built at the pizza concept with upscale developers to expand Bottlefish nationwide. Here’s a closer look at the ideas behind Bottlefish.
A pivot from fast-casual pizza
An upscale seafood concept wasn’t always what Rosenfield and Flax had in mind. The pair, who sold CPK in 2011, originally wanted to develop a fast-casual pizza restaurant, inspired by the explosion of build-your-own concepts such as Blaze Pizza. They laid out tentative plans in a 2013 Los Angeles Times article, with details such as a menu of healthful ingredients and a mix of build-your-own and signature pizzas. But “as we started to get more and more involved, we properly predicted it was going to become a real estate rush,” Flax says.
“And as we looked into the quick rise of build-your-own pizzas, we thought it’d be difficult to differentiate in that space,” Rosenfield adds.
They looked at other fast casuals in the California area and switched gears from pizza to seafood, inspired by concepts such as California Fish Grill and seafood’s healthful positioning. But fast casual “didn’t fit our DNA,” Flax says. Adds Rosenfield: “[With CPK], we had developed relationships with developers in upscale retail centers. So we said, ‘Let’s not think about fast casual. Let’s go to where we’re really comfortable and where we can leverage our relationships.’”
Going after upscale
After deciding to launch a casual-dining seafood restaurant instead of a fast casual, Rosenfield and Flax began developing what they call a “platinum” concept: one step above polished casual dining, to target what used to be their core customer at CPK—affluent consumers. The two said CPK’s core customers were college-educated and had incomes of over $100,000.
“That was our intent from day one—to appeal to upscale women and families,” Rosenfield says. “And with Bottlefish, we are targeting upscale communities around the country.”
Bottlefish debuted in December in Brentwood, an affluent neighborhood of Los Angeles. The 88-seat restaurant is located in an upscale shopping center that also includes a California Pizza Kitchen. But while California Pizza Kitchen’s check average is $15.75 (according to estimates from Technomic), Bottlefish has a check average of about $40 a person.
Bottlefish’s menu centers mostly on sustainable and seasonal seafood, with dishes ranging from grilled seafood served with a choice of sauce to nontraditional options such as black cod meatballs. Seafood is flown in daily from the east coast and also delivered daily from around the west coast. Rosenfield and Flax say they chose seafood for its healthfulness and because they wanted to avoid antibiotics, which they say is harder to do with beef and poultry.
Showing, not telling
Beyond their website, Bottlefish doesn’t promote its sustainability and sourcing. “The reason is that those buzzwords can be overdone. It’s patting yourself on the back for something that should already be done,” Rosenfield says.
Instead, the pair decided to show customers their fresh ingredients by putting them on display. Bottlefish features an open kitchen enclosed by glass that also includes a raw bar. Patrons are given a raw bar menu with the date printed on it, specifically to show customers that the menu changes daily based on what seafood is fresh and available, Rosenfield says.
Rosenfield and Flax developed Bottlefish to be scalable, and they plan to leverage their existing relationships with developers to expand across the country. But unlike CPK, which features a similar look for all units, the pair says Bottlefish will have different designs. “We will take every location and try to design [the restaurant] to fit the location, rather than fit our concept into a location,” Flax says.
One reason for that is to attract millennials. “There’s a general aversion right now to anything that’s a chain, especially with millennials … they want individualism,” Flax says. The percentage of upscale casual-dining consumers who prefer independents to chains is highest among 25- to 34-year-olds (36%), according to Technomic’s Future of FSR Consumer Trend Report.