California Pizza Kitchen has had its ups and downs. It was once the hottest of the hot concepts, the work of a couple of...attorneys. Go figure. The founding principals were pizza topped with California fusion ingredients. While not entirely original, Woflgang Puck had really started the whole thing at Spago, CPK took the idea mainstream. During the 80's and early 90's, CPK was as a great idea limited only by it's access to expansion capital.
To solve that need, they forged a partnership with Pepsico, who was looking for more growth concepts to buttress Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, the cash cows. The partnership gave virtually unlimited growth capital to CPK, who went to work spending it.
I was there. For a few glorious days, maybe even weeks, I was "in charge" of international development. Along with my other duties as I traveled I looked for CPK opportunities, and I was familiarized with the core values and operations of CPK. Food made from scratch, mostly in store, but also in commissaries. Fanatic devotion to internal promotion and development, culture and training, before that became an accepted focus. Recipes developed by people who like and know food, not scientists and suppliers. The whole thing had personality, and a devoted following.
As it usually does, the over-funded expansion went too far. As the whole thing unraveled, due more to Pepsico's need's than CPK's shortcomings, the two Larrys got complete control of CPK, and the sloppy operations and excess sites. They had to re-trench, and they rediscovered the vigor they had when building the concept.
The new design is still oven centered, but warmer and more economic. The "bathroom" look of ceramic tile, mirrors, black and yellow is gone, thankfully (when did that EVER look good?).