Global Restaurant Concepts Inc. (GRC) unveiled its first restaurant concept with California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) in the Philippines in 1997. It was the first international franchise to be granted by the US pizza chain. Sixteen years and ten branches later, CPK continues to dominate the premium pizza restaurant experience by opening two more outlets before the year ends.
CPK’s tenth restaurant begins serving in August at the ground floor of Eastwood Mall in time for the CPK-established celebration of National Pizza Day. Since last year, the restaurant has started commemorating by giving away free pizza with every pizza order. The one-day event has drawn up lines of diners outside each restaurant.
GRC President and CEO Archie Rodriguez, who has been there since the restaurant’s local entry, recalled that it took awhile for the US pizza company to warm up to the idea of an international branch. “Convincing the founders that the Philippine market was prime took over three years, but we stayed focused and true to our commitment to sign the brand. It took time, but we believed in investing in our people and country,” he said.
Local and big international restaurant brands had been operating longer when CPK arrived. Among pizza restaurants then, there were a few brands that catered mostly to the mass market. “There was no family restaurant that offered unique premium pizzas and a variety of dishes inspired by global flavours. CPK was all about innovation and it was this creativity and commitment to quality that really made us stand out in the crowd,” Rodriguez said.
His company soon found that sourcing the right ingredients for CPK’s gourmet pizzas was another challenge. “We found ourselves air freighting or shipping in many products in order to stay true to our standards,” he said.
The sourcing situation has improved a great deal since then, thanks to a changing market and a growing industry. “We felt CPK was creating a new pizza category. It was a niche market that we could later expand on. Our products, service and ambiance clearly set us apart from the typical pizza chain at that time,” he said.
CPK refers to it as their “pizza authority,” a claim now backed by 16 years in the Filipino palate, an expanding branch network and an ever evolving menu of gourmet pizzas, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads, desserts and appetizers. It is also among the few non-Italian pizza restaurants that offer a wide variety of wine and beverages.
“Filipinos have become more discerning and mature in their choices. They are more health-conscious; they look for variety in the menu and are willing to try something new while they keep their loyalty to the classic dishes. Value for them is no longer just about the price but the quality that also goes with it—exceptional service and great ambiance,” he added. “There are so many options that you have to work even harder to amaze your customer each time.”
CPK now has approximately 300 employees working in prime locations such as Greenbelt 5, Alabang Town Center, Trinoma, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Bonifacio Global City, Lucky Chinatown Mall, Power Plant Mall and soon, Eastwood Mall.
For their first restaurant outside Metro Manila, CPK opened in Harbor Point Mall in Subic last year. The company has received calls to open outside Metro Manila, but visibility and accessibility is regarded highly in location choices. “I must admit that when we look at markets outside the metro, we are a little more careful. Each location needs careful planning and study. But with the right partner and the right location, we are confident we can do well,” Rodriguez added.
By the fourth quarter, CPK’s 11th restaurant will be located in SM Mall of Asia.
“The challenge today is looking for great locations and making sure our design and format meet the community’s aspirations. We now look at building more compact, more efficient, and more welcoming stores specifically modelled to fit the township, mall or development it will be located in,” Rodriguez said.
Even with the rise of both home grown and foreign pizza brands, Rodriguez remains upbeat about CPK’s growth in the country. After convincing US principals of the Philippines’ market potential and building a 16-year old restaurant brand, Rodriguez has learned a great deal from CPK’s continuing story.
“Stay committed and focused to the DNA of the brand and the rest will follow. Naturally this all starts with all our stakeholders, but in particular the amazing teams we have working for us each day. Our commitment to our people equals their commitment to the brand, and consequently, to our guests,” he said.
Visit CPK in the following locations: Alabang Town Center, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, TriNoma, Greenhills Promenade, Power Plant Mall, Greenbelt 5, Lucky Chinatown Mall, Subic Harbor Point Mall, W Global Center Bonifacio Global City and Eastwood Mall. For latest news and updates, follow CPKPhilippines on Facebook and Twitter.