California Pizza Kitchen is unlike any other pizza chain on Earth. With an upscale menu of creative pizzas, pastas, and salads, it’s developed legions of fans, and was a true pioneer of the fast-casual market that’s taking fast food by storm. But even if you can’t go a week without its signature barbecue chicken pizza, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about this popular chain.
CPK was founded by two attorneys, Rick Rosenfeld and Larry Flax, in 1985 in Beverly Hills. The duo, who had no previous restaurant experience, pooled together $550,000 to launch it, and were convinced that the burgeoning California-style pizza movement, which featured fresh and creative ingredients, could anchor a national chain. Popularized by restaurants including Spago and Chez Panisse, the duo replaced high-end toppings like caviar and smoked salmon with more affordable favorites like chicken teriyaki, and the crowds rolled in.
By 1992 there were 26 locations throughout Southern California, and PepsiCo came aboard to purchase 67 percent of the chain for $100 million, giving Flax and Rosenfeld a $17.5 million windfall each. The chain has gone through a handful of different owners over the years, but today it’s owned by Golden Gate Capital, which famously purchased Red Lobster from Darden in 2014.
CPK is constantly looking to stay modern and reinvent itself, with new menu items being rolled out every year. In 2014 it began opening “Next Chapter” locations, with designs that incorporate reclaimed wood and menu items including cedar plank grilled halibut, grilled ribeye with blue cheese butter, smoked ham and Swiss flatbreads, and cocktails. One look at its menu and it’s clear that it being voted America’s favorite pizza chain is no fluke. Read on for 11 things you didn’t know about CPK.