CPK's Pleasure Island venue offers California vibe

MAKING PIZZAS: Pizza chefs, such as A.M. Mickay, have things in high gear at California Pizza Kitchen, cranking out more than 100 pizzas a day. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Whether it’s rain or shine outside, within the four walls of California Pizza Kitchen, "it’s California," said B.C. Park, senior director of global operations and development for CPK.

CPK Guam welcomes customers to its new location at The Plaza Shopping Center, in the heart of Pleasure Island. With a soaring, yellow storefront and completely updated look inside, the well-known California pizza franchise is ready to make a splash in the Tumon food scene.

“We want (guests) to come in and feel comfortable,” said Darren Talai, president of International Dining Concepts, which owns the Guam CPK franchise. “You can come in casual, you can dress up a little bit, make it like a date night – (it can) kind of be a place for any and all (occasions).”

The restaurant’s new look already can be found throughout the U.S. mainland, with the Guam franchise’s own renovations coming on the tail end of a $60 million renovation project, according to Park, who came in to help with the new location opening in early March.

With vibrant images of West Coast icons such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Venice Beach adorning its walls and a refreshingly modern, urban feel, CPK seems to have achieved a truly SoCal vibe, taking their classic California style into the 21st century – while still honoring the culture and community this CPK calls home.

In fact, the Guam franchise recently brought back an award for doing just that. 

Chosen as the 2019 Franchise Partner of the Year at CPK’s Palm Awards, it’s the second time IDC has brought home the award, this year just in time for their new location opening.

The award is given to “a partner who we identify as the most outstanding and that represents our brand the best outside the U.S.,” Park said. “They have all the core elements of who we are in the U.S. and they are able to adapt to the local culture while still maintaining the integrity of the brand.”

Park said the Guam CPK also stood out for its hospitality and sales numbers that were remarkable for Guam’s relatively small population.

“The level of service and guest experience that they provide to the locals here on Guam is far superior than a lot of the other partners internationally,” Park said. “That’s embedded in their culture, embedded in their DNA.”

Guests can expect to receive that same level of service at the new 164-seater location, which boasts a full bar, a pizza bar, private dining and an indoor “patio” with 20 additional seats: 90 percent of the staff was brought over from the previous location at Holiday Resort & Spa Guam, so most of their staff is already well versed in the ways of CPK.

Even so, “getting familiarized and accustomed to working in the new facility ... still takes some work,” Talai acknowledged.

Apart from the stellar service and on-point branding, CPK also offers an international-fusion menu representing California’s diverse population and food scene.

“Recently ... we’ve really gone back to our core roots of being very adventurous with our food,” Park said, mentioning a companywide shakeup several years ago that they now refer to as “the next chapter.” “We are coming back to being ... the trend-setter in our industry rather than a follower.”

One trend they set: Cauliflower pizza crust, a new gluten-free crust alternative.

“That’s really been popular,” Talai said. In fact, “that’s my favorite crust right now, personally. It’s pretty crispy.”

But CPK goes way beyond serving Cali-style pies.

Park said, “We’re really expanding our menu ... by providing them much more than just pizza.”

The menu is, in fact, bursting with diverse, flavorful options, including new additions such as the Saigon Beef Salad – a refreshing, spicy mix reminiscent of Vietnamese beef salad – and Spicy Shrimp Tacos.

An old favorite is even making a comeback: the Portobello Mushroom Ravioli has returned after its unwelcome departure years ago, and Talai expects it will be a popular menu addition.

“This was on our original menu when we opened, and it was very popular,” Talai said. The dish features ravioli stuffed with earthy portobello mushrooms, herbs and cheese and topped with basil and tomatoes. “Now it’s ... back by popular demand.”

That international flair is what makes CPK truly California, as the menu represents the huge ethnic diversity of the Golden State.

Guam's CHamoru heritage is represented too, with the Chamorro Sausage Pizza and spicy Chicken Kelaguen. 

Talai said it can be challenging to run CPK, as their commitment to fresh food means their staff is continually prepping ingredients, most of which are brought in from the restaurant’s namesake.

“One of the fantastic things that I personally love about CPK – and also what, by the way, makes it very difficult to operate – is everything is processed fresh, every shift,” Talai said. “So that’s really the thing that I think ... kind of makes our food stand out versus a lot of other franchises.”

In addition to their base restaurant operations, CPK also offers a dedicated takeout area and catering, which Talai said will be a major focus for the restaurant going forward. And even further down the line, a second location may be in the works for a more local crowd.

But for now, Talai’s focus is on Tumon as IDC wraps up months of construction. Park said, “The restaurant’s looking fantastic ... the staff is very excited to have us back and be part of the venture together. ... We’re just excited.”

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