California Pizza Kitchen Enters Canadian Market with Plans to Expand Nationwide [Interview]

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California Pizza Kitchen has entered the Canadian market with a location in Edmonton and plans to grow the brand across the country.

Giorgio Minardi, Executive Vice President of Global and Franchise Operations, said this is the company’s first franchise restaurant in North America. All of the brand’s locations in North America, apart from airports and captive markets, are company owned.

Giorgio Minardi

“Before the pandemic we had a couple of other opportunities, which we still have. But here we think we’ve found the right partner. In franchising, you need someone who understands, loves the brand and expresses it locally so it can really come alive,” said Minardi. 

“And so we waited. We waited actually a couple of years to make sure that this partnership could get ready. We held their hand all the way to the opening. We had 15 people here from California in the kitchen for a month just to make sure we are as good if not better than what we have in California.”

Image: California Pizza Kitchen

Minardi said the new partnership in Alberta will open several locations in the province. 

The first restaurants will be fairly large ranging between 6,000 and 7,000 square feet in order to fully express the brand. But Minardi said the company is flexible and can operate in locations of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. 

Naheed Shariff

The Edmonton location is at 5260 Windermere Boulevard NW and is operated by CPK Alberta CEO Naheed Shariff, who brings more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant franchising industry, and his mother Samira, CPK Edmonton franchisee with four decades of experience. 

“We were first introduced to California Pizza Kitchen in the mid 1990’s and were immediately inspired by its culture and innovation. We’re honored and excited to bring this iconic, forward-thinking brand to Canada for the first time, while simultaneously (contributing) to job creation here in Alberta,” said Naheed. “CPK offers a fun, healthy, alternative experience that guests long for, and we’re thrilled to offer Edmonton residents a taste of that. The brand’s innovative, California-fresh cuisine combined with the benevolent culture of the people truly solidified the deal.”

“The Shariffs are well-known and highly respected throughout Edmonton, and we are absolutely thrilled to partner with them as they lead California Pizza Kitchen into Canada for the first time,” said Minardi. “This milestone for our brand serves as a testament to the innovative business model we’ve created and will further propel our franchise growth efforts on a global scale. We’re proud to welcome such experienced operators like Naheed and Samira and can’t wait to see what the future holds for them as they bring our signature, California-inspired cuisine to the residents of Edmonton.”

Image: California Pizza Kitchen Canada

Minardi said California Pizza Kitchen provides franchisees flexibility with customizable menus, design layouts and multiple daypart offerings so that each location can individually align with consumer needs and thrive within their market. These key differentiators, along with an average unit volume between $3 million and $5 million, have positioned the brand as an attractive investment by experienced multi-unit franchisees. California Pizza Kitchen prioritizes catering to franchisees’ needs, providing them with the tools and resources required, including expanding technology and mobile capabilities for each location, best-in-class training and development in all areas of the business.

He said California Pizza Kitchen is aggressively expanding in markets throughout the U.S. and is looking to add experienced, qualified multi-unit franchisees to grow the brand. Prospective franchisees must have a minimum net worth of $5 million, a minimum liquidity of $2 million and a commitment to open three to five restaurants during the first five years. 

Samira Shariff

“We have already some contacts. Of course we’re discussing in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal which we’ll probably do sometime in the next year and beyond,” added Minardi. 

“We’re not like a fast food chain so we don’t have to run that fast. Our restaurants do very big volumes. In the US we do from $6 to $8 million in sales. So we just have to get it right and we have to make sure. So we’re not so much in a hurry. But we need to get the right partners before we can do that. That takes a bit more extra time than a usual, normal QSR (quick service restaurant) or fast casual brand.”

The concept opened its first restaurant in 1985 in Beverly Hills.

Today, the global brand is in nearly 200 restaurants in eight countries and U.S. territories.

“The food is very unique. It’s very healthy. It just drives this whole vibe in the brand which connects everyone with people that are young and have high spirits. We are in California. We are in Beverly Hills. So it has this whole vibe to the brand but it’s the food that really drives it. And it’s not just only pizza. Pizza is part of the brand but our menu is one that has lasted now for over 35 years. We have connected with some real big fans and particularly during the pandemic these fans have really stuck with us in this difficult time,” said Minardi.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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