California Pizza Kitchen Inc. wants to take a slice out of the fast-casual sector ASAP.

After originally launching a pared down hybrid takeout/sit-down concept called California Pizza Kitchen ASAP in 1998, the L.A.-based company is pushing forward with plans to expand. This year, the company will open four or more ASAP units, including a Culver City location that began serving customers last month.

"This is a way of leveraging our brand and getting our food into other venues," said Rick Rosenfield, co-chief executive of California Pizza Kitchen. ASAP "is positioned right between full service and fast food. Everybody understands it as a step up from fast food."

In the hot fast-casual sector, pizza isn't as common as Mexican or sandwiches, and CPK believes that uniqueness will help it carve out a niche. Mexican food is an especially competitive area, with chains such as Baja Fresh, a subsidiary of Wendy's International Inc., Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Qdoba, owned by Jack in the Box Inc., fighting for market share.

The intention of the ASAPs is to boost CPK's revenues in parts of the day less strong in its sit-down restaurants, which are traditionally busier at dinner. Lunch is big ASAP business, and the company has spruced up the lunch items adding paninis, smoothies and some salads to appeal to the midday customer. CPK is testing out breakfast at a new Chicago ASAP before spreading omelets and bacon-and-egg pizzas to other units.

To keep matters in the kitchen simple and speed service, CPK has limited the menu at ASAPs: there are about 14 of the chain's most popular pizzas, compared to twice that many in the full-service restaurants. And there are grab-and-go selections as well as takeout line and curbside services for those in a rush.

Another goal of the ASAP locations is to increase CPK's catering sales. At the Culver City location, CPK advertises catering five days a week and, although it has only been open a short while, the restaurant has provided food at nearby Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and other local companies. In total, there are 25 CPK ASAP locations, but only six are company owned. Most of the others are in airports under a franchise agreement with HMSHost Corp., owned by Autogrill SpA.

One bit of caution for impatient lunchgoers: it takes just as long to cook the pizzas, including 14-inch variety on the ASAP menu, as at the full-service restaurants.


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