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.


Blue Response
Paul Guez promises he's not turning blue into green; he's turning it into bricks. Or brick-and-mortar stores, to be exact.


A Blue Holdings Inc. shelf registration amended last month and originally filed last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission to allow the disposal of more than 23 million shares, including Guez' around 18 million, suggested a possible sell off as reported in this column last week.


And the recent revelation that L.A.-based jeans competitor True Religion Apparel Inc., which Blue Holdings followed into the public markets, is seeking a private equity buyer added fuel to the fire. But Guez, the founder, chairman and chief executive, pledges he will not exit Blue Holdings, based in Commerce and traded on Nasdaq.


"The speculation that I am going to sell has nothing to do with what other companies are doing. We want to stay public," he said. "This is my life, this is what I do."


Rather than keeping shares unrestricted to ready them for a sale, Guez said he is not restricting them to ease future acquisitions in the retail and apparel sectors.


The company opened the brand Antik's flagship store on Melrose Avenue in August last year and has been looking to beef up its retail operations to showcase its various brands, which include Taverniti So Jeans and Yanuk in addition to Antik.


"By putting my stock in the bank, I can borrow against it and incubate other brands. Sometimes you need to close the deal before going to the Street to raise money," he said. "I want to be able to pull the trigger and make the deal for the company. Then, go and raise money. The only way to do that is to have my stock free to help the company."


Already, Guez said he's been fielding offers from apparel and retail companies gunning to be purchased by Blue Holdings. Although he wouldn't disclose specific company names or the size of companies he's interested in taking over, Guez did say that he would like to add at least one apparel brand and to grow Blue Holding's store base.


Since the original shelf registration last year, he said, "I did not sell a piece, and I never will until I execute my full plan to have retail operations and to acquire another company."


Currently, the company's retail business is small and, according to the Blue Holdings' most recent quarterly financial filing with the SEC, is "not yet significant to the consolidated operations."


For that quarter ended March 31, the company did rack up $11.9 million in sales of its denim products to boutiques, department stores and other outlets.


Staff reporter Rachel Brown can be reached at rbrown@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 224.

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