California Pizza Kitchen Inc. (CPK), home to the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza and other hearth-baked pizzas, made-to-order pastas, and creative salads, announced that G.J. Hart was named its president, CEO, and executive chairman. He will succeed Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, CPK’s cofounders. CPK was acquired by Golden Gate Capital on July 7.
Hart, 53, is a highly respected industry leader who brings to CPK a proven track record of growing casual dining concepts. He most recently was CEO of Texas Roadhouse, a publicly traded casual-dining company that owns, operates, and franchises more than 350 restaurants across the country. During his 10 years at Texas Roadhouse, he led the company through an unprecedented period of growth, increasing revenues from $63 million to more than $1 billion. Under his direction, Texas Roadhouse grew unit count, revenue, and profitability every year he was at the company. Hart’s leadership skills, strategic vision, and ability to create an employee-focused culture are often cited as the pillars for Texas Roadhouse’s successful expansion.
Rosenfield and Flax stated, “The Company has been actively engaged in a CEO search and, with the sale to Golden Gate Capital complete, this is the right time to bring in a new CEO with the operational and strategic expertise to take CPK to the next level of performance. In G.J., we have found a talented leader with demonstrated success in building one of the most popular and respected casual dining brands through employee loyalty and a focus on delivering a superior dining experience for consumers. His leadership skills and entrepreneurial drive, combined with CPK’s reputation of delivering delicious, innovative food, and excellent service, position the company for continued success.”
“I am excited to be joining California Pizza Kitchen – a company that has earned an exceptional brand reputation by consistently raising the bar for excellence and innovation in a competitive and dynamic marketplace,” Hart says. “Equally compelling is the opportunity to work with CPK’s talented management team and employees whose success is anchored by a strong set of embedded cultural values and with the Golden Gate Capital team whose strategic vision for casual dining and rich history of growing top-tier consumer brands are unparalleled.”
“G.J. is widely recognized as one of the industry’s most successful executives whose achievements are unmatched in the sector,” says Josh Olshansky, a managing director with Golden Gate Capital. “He is a creative and team-oriented leader with excellent management skills and a superb track record of delivering outstanding results and growth. As we look to the future, we are confident that CPK will benefit from his unique perspective and capabilities, and we are delighted that he has agreed to join the company.”
Hart is an active member of numerous community and philanthropic organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics, United Way, and the American Red Cross. He currently serves on the board of directors of Kosair Children’s Hospital, Bellarmine University, and the Louisville Metro Police Foundation.
Golden Gate Capital is one of the most active acquirers of leading consumer brands in both the retail and restaurant sectors. Over the past several years, Golden Gate has made significant investments in California Pizza Kitchen, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and multichannel retail companies Express, Eddie Bauer, J. Jill, and Zales. Golden Gate Capital focuses on partnering top-tier brands with best in class management teams.