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California Pizza Kitchen to open 1st Canadian restaurant in Edmonton

A pizza at a California Pizza Kitchen party.
A pizza at a California Pizza Kitchen party. Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

California Pizza Kitchen — or CPK, as it’s known by fans and employees alike — is expanding into Canada and its first location will be in Edmonton.

The Edmonton location will open in the coming months, and will be the first of five locations planned in the province over the next eight years, a news release said.

The company was founded in Beverly Hills, Calif. in 1985 and describes its style as “elevated casual dining,” serving up “artisan, California-style pizzas” (including cauliflower crust options), salads, pastas and other entrees.

Atmosphere during California Pizza Kitchen opening on Park Ave. South in New York City – May 14, 2007.
Atmosphere during California Pizza Kitchen opening on Park Ave. South in New York City – May 14, 2007. Jemal Countess/WireImage

The restaurants feature hearth pizza ovens and open kitchens, where customers can watch their meals being made.

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“We’ve had our sights set on expanding into Canada for many years now,” California Pizza Kitchen CEO Jim Hyatt said.

READ MORE: 9 Alberta burger joints acclaimed as being among the best in Canada

The move comes at a time when several chains have downsized or shuttered in Edmonton. Late last year, several Tony Roma’s shut down in Edmonton and Red Robin pulled out of Alberta. Chili’s also closed nine restaurants in Alberta in 2017, leaving only the airport locations in Edmonton and Calgary, and a single standalone storefront in Banff.

Starbucks also recently shuttered a handful of stores in Edmonton, but experts said that decision was likely more of a tactical maneuver to increase profit — not an issue with the city as a whole.

Susan Lauder, a hospitality management instructor at NAIT, spoke with Global News at the time and said she believes these chains weren’t able to grasp onto consumer trends in Alberta.

Lauder said that while she believes consumers are leaning towards local restaurants, upscale casual restaurants like Earls, and fast-casual restaurants like Famoso or Five Guys, there has been a movement away from middling restaurants like Chili’s and Red Robin.

READ MORE: Restaurant experts say big-chain closures in Edmonton not surprising as consumers push local

She noted Western Canada does upscale casual very well, and on Thursday said it can be a hard market to break into because there are so many successful eateries in that category.

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“So many restaurant chains assume that Canada is just an extension of the U.S. in terms of culture,” she said, noting it’s important for chains to do their research on the local market.

“Although fast casual is considered to be the fastest growing type of restaurant in North America, in Edmonton we are seeing a significant move to Skip the Dishes/Uber Eats.”

“What will differentiate California Pizza Kitchen from Famoso, Boston Pizza, Pizza Hut, etc?”

A California Pizza Kitchen in Palo Alto, Calif. is photographed, Wednesday, May 25, 2011.
A California Pizza Kitchen in Palo Alto, Calif. is photographed, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Bringing CPK to Alberta is longtime restaurateur, Samira Shariff, who at one point owned four Boston Pizza locations in the Edmonton area, and her son Naheed Shariff, a businessman owns half a dozen Browns Socialhouse locations in the city and in St. Albert.

“We’re confident we have the right, deeply experienced partner in Samira Shariff to spearhead our entry into the market,” Hyatt said.

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The Shariffs have several decades of experience running restaurant franchises.

“Their enthusiasm for our brand, coupled with their deep experience developing successful polished casual and fast-casual restaurant brands in Alberta, make them the perfect partners to bring CPK into Canada for the first time,” said Giorgio Minardi, CPK executive vice president of global development & franchise operations.

Giorgio Minardi, executive vice president of global development & franchise operations at CPK, and Naheed Shariff, CPK Edmonton franchisee
Giorgio Minardi, executive vice president of global development & franchise operations at CPK, and Naheed Shariff, CPK Edmonton franchisee. Business Wire

A news release said Naheed Shariff will be the CEO of CPK’s Alberta footprint.

“Every time we’ve visited the U.S. over the years, our family has always made a point of eating at CPK,” Naheed Shariff said in a statement.

“What we admire about the brand is its continuous evolution, forward thinking with modern tastes, from experimenting with new flavors and ingredients, to being leaders in better-for-you options, such as gluten-free and veggie-based Cauliflower Pizza Crust.

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“We think CPK’s creative California vibe and innovative menu will resonate with Albertans and offer something completely new in the market.”

READ MORE: 2 sports restaurants announced for downtown Edmonton’s Ice District

Global News reached out for more information on where the Edmonton location would be and when it would open, but as of publishing had not heard back.

CPK has more than 240 locations in 10 countries. CPK said it also intends to further expand to Vancouver and Toronto.

Pizzas made by Matt Sorum and Jane Lynch being cooked at a benefit of the Adopt The Arts school music and arts program at California Pizza Kitchen on September 29, 2018 in Century City, California.
Pizzas made by Matt Sorum and Jane Lynch being cooked at a benefit of the Adopt The Arts school music and arts program at California Pizza Kitchen on September 29, 2018 in Century City, California. Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

With files from Allison Bench, Global News