Get to know G.J. Hart, CEO of California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). At the helm of this wildely popular restaurant for the last several years, G.J. Hart has been making a lot of exciting changes. He calls it the “next chapter” for CPK. The brand is approaching 300 restaurants in 15 countries and 217 cities around the world and has served over 15 million pizzas to more than 43 million of us loyal guests. Dedicated to a unique dining experience, CPK has begun introducing reimagined menus, open kitchens, and unique renovations in restaurants across the country.
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Join Now!Anita Jones-Mueller (AJM): G.J., California Pizza Kitchen has been celebrating its 30th anniversary. I know you have been at the helm for the last three plus years, and I am seeing a lot of exciting changes. You call it the “next chapter” for CPK. What’s in store for us?
G.J. Hart (G.J.): Yes, we are excited about our next chapter. At our core, CPK has always had the soul to be different and to be innovative, to be at the forefront of our fresh California spirit. We’ve looked at every piece of our business – our food, drinks, hospitality, and the ambiance of our restaurants. And we are now in a brand evolution – our next chapter at CPK.
AJM: I’ve experienced one of the newly renovated CPKs. The look and feel are so nice!
G.J.: Yes, many of our locations have already been transformed. We plan to complete the rest by the end of the year. We consider every one of our transformations as a quasi-new restaurant opening.
Our guests are sophisticated; we have a lot of foodies. And so with our transformations, an upscale feel with sustainability elements were guiding factors. Our new and remodeled restaurants have many natural elements, like oak floors, table tops made from reclaimed wood, countertops of natural stone and artifacts from salvaged metal. Vibrant artwork features local landmarks giving each restaurant a unique personality and a hometown atmosphere. We still have the yellow and black, but those colors complement the overall warm, rustic décor.
AJM: And your menus have so many really great, creative Healthy Dining menu choices. Tell us more about them.
G.J.: We’ve always had somewhat of a healthy halo. We are now very focused on health and nutrition. Our executive chef, Brian Sullivan, is creating phenomenal, healthy flavors with high quality, fresh and seasonal ingredients. Ninety percent of our menu is made in our kitchens, from scratch. Fresh vegetables can be seen above the prep stations, and our fresh herbs are growing in gardens near the host station.
We’re bringing our pizza ovens to the forefront– and we use them for a lot more than pizza. We have gone back to hand-tossing our pizza dough. That takes training!
AJM: I love CPK’s Cedar Plank Salmon, and I understand it is baked in your pizza oven. That must be your secret to bringing out the flavor. It is cooked just right. I also really love your Quinoa and Arugula Salad. It is so full of flavor and nutrients and Healthy Dining appeal.
G.J.: Our menu has certainly evolved. Our Moroccan salad is a great example with chicken, butternut squash, dates, avocado, red pepper and cranberries. Pizza is our middle name, and we do it really, really well. But we are not just about pizza –we have this breath of uniqueness because of what we do with fresh, seasonal, healthy, high quality ingredients. We are serving fabulous salads, seafood like salmon, halibut and mahi mahi, chicken and lots of vegetarian items. We encourage our guests to try something new and they’ve been really, really receptive.
AJM: You have so many great choices featured on HealthyDiningFinder, several which are Sodium Savvy, too!
G.J.: It’s important to us to watch the sodium in our recipes. We incorporate spices and herbs instead of salt. And use citrus – you can get a lot more flavor if you pan sear than if you use salt as a carrier.
AJM: I am always trying to get my family to choose whole grain crust when they order pizza, so I’m thrilled you offer it. Does the whole grain crust sell well?
G.J.: Yes, really well. And you know that we also offer gluten-free pizza?
AJM: I do. And a big applause to you! A lot of restaurants have a gluten-free menu but the items may not meet the FDA’s gluten-free definition because they do not protect against cross contact. I know from Healthy Dining’s dietitians that your selection of gluten-free pizzas are not only prepared with gluten-free ingredients, but as important, are also prepared with stringent protocol and training of your teams to ensure they are truly gluten-free. You are one of just a few who can say that.
G.J.: Yes, the credit goes to Brian.
AJM: So overall, your new chapter is a success?
G.J.: It’s been a phenomenal success to date. This is about a full transformation of a company. We have a great brand with fantastic people.
AJM: Congratulations, G.J., and your team! I’m looking forward to your Salmon and Arugula Salad again, very soon.