California Pizza Kitchen

California Pizza Kitchen CEO, G.J. Hart, sits down with the Los Angeles Times

He's joined the upper crust at California Pizza Kitchen

By Shan Li

The gig: G.J. Hart (the initials stand for Gerard Johan) heads California Pizza Kitchen, the restaurant chain based in Playa Vista. As chief executive and executive chairman, Hart, 58, oversees a company with nearly 300 eateries and 14,000 employees around the world. Hart has been in charge of turning around the fast-casual chain, which suffered years of sales declines before it was taken private in 2011. He has led efforts to revamp both the menus and the look of the eateries to keep up with the changing palates of America's diners.

The Dutch boy: Hart was born in the Netherlands and immigrated with his parents and sister to the U.S. at age 5. Growing up in modest circumstances, Hart said he knew he'd have to make his own way in the world. He got his first job as a Little League umpire at age 13. Hart also worked as a Kmart cashier, a highway flagman and a Howard Johnson's dishwasher and short-order cook. "I've always wanted to get ahead," Hart said...