Los Angeles Business Journal

California Pizza Kitchen Founders Starting New Seafood, Pizza Restaurants

By Caroline Anderson Thursday, January 12, 2017

The co-founders of California Pizza Kitchen Inc. are at it again.

After selling their restaurant empire to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital in 2011 for $470 million, Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield are facing the heat of the kitchen again with the recent opening of an upscale seafood eatery in Brentwood and plans for a sit-down pizza restaurant.

Through their investment firm, Flax and Rosenfield Capital Partners, they opened Bottlefish last month. The restaurant offers a raw bar with oysters and entrees including sautéed branzino and lentils for $27. The partners worked on the concept for two and a half years.

“We were looking around at what we thought was trending,” said Flax, 74. “I like to think seafood is a very healthy alternative. Also, it just tastes good.”

Their new pizza venture, Smoke and Stone, will focus on ingredients and have a higher price point than CPK, they said. It will also be bar-oriented.

“We’re reinventing CPK for the 21st century,” said Rosenfield, 71. “Not to denigrate CPK, but we get to write on a clean slate. Today, people are very interested in sourcing – organic, farm to table, the type of ingredients.”

Although they have a name and menu, they don’t yet have a location. Rosenfield said he expects the restaurant to open somewhere in Los Angeles this year.

The partners, who were co-chief executives and co-chairmen of California Pizza Kitchen when they left in 2011, didn’t sign a noncompete agreement.

They’re looking to leverage the real estate relationships they built with California Pizza Kitchen, which they founded while running their law practice in 1985 in Beverly Hills, such as the one they have with developer Rick Caruso, who was the first franchisee.

Rosenfield said they will return to their strategy of opening in affluent areas, noting that at the time they sold the restaurant company, an independent researcher had found that the chain’s core customers had the highest income and education of any chain in America. The partners won’t, however, open near a California Pizza Kitchen because it could cannibalize the business.

The duo had announced in 2013 that they were going to do a fast-casual, order-at-the-counter pizza concept, but scrapped those plans as the space got crowded.

“We saw everyone jumping into it, and we said, There’s going to be a real estate rush and it’s pretty saturated,” said Flax. “I think our prediction turned out to be prophetic.”

The pizza market has shown signs of contracting recently, as some chains have acquired others or had to close stores, including L.A.’s Pizza Studio, which shuttered several locations last year.

Bottlefish is the first restaurant the team has opened since LA Food Show, which they started while still at California Pizza Kitchen, now headquartered in Playa Vista. Golden Gate Capital shut down LA Food Show in 2012 to focus on its main restaurant, Flax said.

Flax and Rosenfield would like to open more locations of Bottlefish, but are waiting to see how it does.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of CPK if there would be over 200 restaurants, I would have told you that’s crazy,” said Flax.

Staff reporter Caroline Anderson covers retail, restaurants, and hospitality. She can be reached at canderson@labusinessjournal.com.