An ode to California Pizza Kitchen whose Dallas location has closed
A longtime pizzeria in Dallas' Preston Center that sowed the seeds of a pizza transformation has closed: California Pizza Kitchen, the California-based upscale pizza chain, has closed its location in Preston Center.
A spokesperson for the chain confirmed that the location was closed permanently. The location page has been removed from the company's website, and the Facebook page has been deactivated. A recording on their phone also confirms they are closed and recommends visiting one of their other locations.
There are three other Dallas-area locations which have all reopened following COVID-19 closures, including Willow Bend Mall in Plano, Stonebriar Mall in Frisco, and Grapevine. There's also an outlet at DFW Airport.
But after nearly 30 years, there is no longer a location in the city of Dallas.
It's hard to overstate the role CPK has played, in Dallas and nationally, in terms of changing the way we look at pizza.
The chain was founded in 1985 by two lawyers, Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, who were inspired by Spago, the groundbreaking Beverly Hills pizzeria from chef Wolfgang Puck, and created a scaleable, mainstream version they could expand.
Rosenfield and Flax persuaded pizza guru Ed LaDou to leave Spago to design a menu featuring upscale combinations and ingredients that had never been served on a pizza before, including CPK's signature barbecue chicken pizza, topped with chicken — a novelty in itself — and BBQ sauce standing in for marinara.
CPK was the first to popularize ideas such as a "cheeseless" pizza, just as it sounds, toppings but no gross cheese; and the first to introduce a successful version of a whole wheat crust, which they still offer as an option to this day.
"Suddenly, California-style pizza was available to the masses," says this excellent story by Andy Kryza on Thrillist. "As pizzerias in major California cities became emboldened by the new trend of putting fresh, outside-the-box ingredients on pies, CPK hit the road, establishing itself as the unofficial ambassador of California-style pizza, dominating malls and cities across the country and bringing with them Thai chicken pizza with peanut sauce and roasted garlic chicken pies to an America that was only just waking up to the ideas of fresh food, global cuisine, and culinary fusion."
They've continued to innovate, with the most recent introduction being a cauliflower-based crust. Following the coronavirus lockdown, they shifted to takeout and delivery, and launched "CPK Market," with meal kits, pantry, and alcoholic beverage items.
In addition to pizzas, they've always had nice salads, pastas, and appetizers which have evolved to follow trends; for example, their current menu features Buffalo cauliflower and Mexican street corn.
Dallas now has lots of great pizza thanks to chains like Fireside Pies, Cane Rosso, Zoli's, Modern Market, and Sixty Vines, but you can't imagine how awful it was prior to CPK's opening in Dallas in 1993. Everything was chains, trust me, it was all garbage.
Beyond the pizza, the Preston Center location had a casual yet sophisticated ambience, with loads of seating options, from tables and booths to a cool bar at the center, and a congenial, welcoming atmosphere, comfortable for office workers, families, Park Cities high school kids, and even dates.
There was also a California Pizza Kitchen along Addison's restaurant row at 5505 Belt Line Rd., now home to a location of Mesero, the Dallas Mexican chain.
CPK has been battered over the years by owners such as PepsiCo, who briefly tried to use subpar frozen toppings, and current owner Golden Gate Capital, a nefarious private equity firm that loaded on more debt to the chain's bills just so it could pay itself a multimillion-dollar dividend.
In April 2020, they were seeking to restructure debt to avoid filing bankruptcy, in response to decimated sales caused by the coronavirus.