In this series, The Way We Work, Entrepreneur Associate Editor Lydia Belanger examines how people foster productivity, focus, collaboration, creativity and culture in the workplace.
By the time California Pizza Kitchen had been in business for 27 years, its corporate headquarters needed a major makeover. The offices were previously located on Century Boulevard in Los Angeles between two hotels near the airport -- not the trendiest spot.
“It was a very, I call it a ‘vanilla’ building, with ’80s earthtones,” says Chief Development Officer Clint Coleman, who oversees the design of the company’s offices and restaurants. “Very, very high cubicles. No sight lines. Lots of offices. We were bifurcated on two floors. The executives parked in the garage, and everybody else parked in a lot across the street, so there was a little bit of hierarchy, and it just didn’t feel right.”
Coleman and the rest of the leadership team, along with the company’s equity partners began shopping around for a new space. They settled on the top floor of a building in Playa Vista, a mixed-use neighborhood with residential and commercial properties that has been nicknamed Silicon Beach for the high volume of tech startups that call it home.
The team signed a sublease on the 33,000-square-foot space with Fox Interactive Media in spring 2012. It had been vacant since 2008 -- Fox never carried out plans to turn it into an office for Myspace. By the fall, California Pizza Kitchen moved into the new space, which contrary to the old, austere HQ, was filled with light and allowed everyone, regardless of title, to work together on the same floor.
“We were looking to supercharge the energy,” Coleman says, explaining that he perceived how the design of the space, as well as its location among prominent tech companies, motivated employees and even helped with recruiting. “Now, we've got some things that really reinforce our brand and what we stand for.”
With communal areas such as a patio with a fire pit, fun fixtures including a rubber duck pool, a game room and even a wall with framed artifacts from the company’s history, California Pizza Kitchen’s headquarters inspire collaboration, positive attitudes and reflection among the 120 employees who work there.
A 3-by-3-foot concrete column stands in the middle of the office, and initially, the team just surrounded it with a set of filing cabinets. It wasn’t really in the way, Coleman says, it just “didn’t have any sensibility to it. It was just there.”
One of California Pizza Kitchen’s longstanding philosophies, established by its founders in the mid-80s, is “R.O.C.K.” It stands for four values: respect, opportunity, communication and kindness.
“I think for the first 26 years for lack of having a mission statement, that was kind of our mission mantra, if you will,” Coleman says. “Every decision and every thought had to fit into either some type of respect for somebody, opportunity for somebody, a way to communicate or a way to be kind.”
Coleman and the team decided to decorate the column to look like a rock-climbing wall to be the centerpiece of a monthly staff awards ceremony. Each month, employees nominate each other for a “Rockstar of the Month” award, and one person who embodies R.O.C.K. qualities gets honored during a 30-minute morning gathering. Everyone gathers around the rock wall for a celebration, which has several objects affixed to its surface that look like rock-climbing hand and foot grips. A plaque for the winner is mounted on one of these grips.
The values, like the column, are the backbone of the office.
About three-quarters of the employees who work in California Pizza Kitchen’s corporate office started in one of the company’s restaurants and worked their way up.
The employees are comfortable using industrial equipment, and over the years, some unused fixtures have become available to HQ. The office has a restaurant-sized refrigerator with sliding glass doors, a 14-foot bar with keg taps in it, Starbucks coffee makers and two bar-height communal tables, which were leftover from concept tests.
Coleman wanted the rooftop to feel like a roof deck at a hotel, he says, with six types of seating options, fire pits, plants, cabanas, grills and a bar. It’s a relaxing oasis where people can have casual conversations or meetings.
“There’s enough ambient noise outside where, with the breeze, that it gives a certain sense of privacy,” Coleman says. “You may not need privacy at all, but it gives you a sense of space in each one of those vignettes.”
There are also grills on the patio, and sometimes people bring in marinated meat to prepare for department lunches. There’s also a cook and hold cabinet in the space, where employees store barbecued items they’ve prepared at home to serve to their co-workers.
“At one point, people were scared that we had open bars and free beer and wine, but it’s really respected,” Coleman says. “At the same time, if it keeps people here longer and they’re sitting around the fire pits having a conversation at work about work, that’s productivity. Or if you can keep a department from going offsite for two hours and having lunch.”
California Pizza Kitchen also lets employees from other companies in the building enjoy the roof deck from time to time. “It helps us make friends fast,” Coleman says. “I’ve also seen employees from other companies in the building come up and go and work out with our people and so forth. So, a real sense of community has been built here.”
Coleman, who has been with California Pizza Kitchen in various restaurant-level and corporate roles since 1989, has collected and displayed a variety of artifacts from the company’s history.
The illuminated sign came out of a store that was damaged in the Northridge earthquake. The store was closed for three years and eventually remodeled, but during that time frame, the company redesigned its logo, and the sign went into storage until Coleman added it to the this wall.
It’s surrounded by “brag pieces,” as Coleman calls them -- documents that mark milestones for CPK, such as articles from when the company went public and when it resumed private ownership. There are also old menus in shadow boxes, including some from the typewriter, 8.5-by-11 paper days when the chain offered far fewer items. Finally, Coleman found the first dollar bill that ever came through the first Beverly Hills store framed and sitting in a storage closet, and he mounted it on the wall, too.
“From a personal perspective, you see places like Las Vegas, and they tear down old stuff and they build new. That’s nothing against them, but I like to embrace old stuff,” Coleman says. “At some point, somebody’s going to look around and ask for that, and if it’s not here, it’s like the company has no soul.”
A design theme Coleman has instated throughout California Pizza Kitchen’s corporate offices and restaurants is the use of mixed materials. From corten steel to concrete to exposed ceilings to patches of carpet, he goes for an industrial look with the spaces.
In 2012, when employees moved into the new headquarters, they didn’t have a clear sense of the purpose of what Coleman dubbed “The Serenity Room,” he says. It had a big, orange sliding door, barn hardware, tree wallpaper, astroturf, retro furniture and, for a historical touch, photos of original California Pizza Kitchen stores with an outdated design.
“This lore got out about that room. ‘No, you can’t talk on your cell phone in that room, that’s The Serenity Room,’” Coleman says. “People were afraid to go in there and do anything but have one-on-one chats, or two- to five-people group meetings.”
After a few weeks, Coleman says he clarified during an all-staff meeting: “It wasn’t meant to be literal. It’s just a great place to go chill if you need to.”
Today, the space doubles as a nursing room for mothers to abide by California law, in addition to being a meeting place or somewhere for employees to go unwind or have some quiet time. There’s even a foot massager machine in the room.
“The intention was for it to be whatever it happens to be,” Coleman says, “so it worked out well.”
This corten steel came with the space, so Coleman and the team decided to keep it filled with water. Then, an idea struck.
“I was at Target getting some stuff for the office,” Coleman says. “I saw a bunch of ducks, and I bought them.” Over the years, employees have added their own decorated ducks, paying tribute to sports teams and personalizing them in various ways.
“The intent was just to do something that makes people smile,” Coleman says.
The CEO's office has a small, intimate collaboration area, as well as a more formal desk. It’s meant to inspire interaction and brainstorming among employees and executives, vs. the bifurcation the old office layout established.
Jim Hyatt became California Pizza Kitchen's CEO in January 2018, when G.J. Hart, who had occupied the role since 2011, retired.
In addition to the Rockstar of the Month, there is also an awards program for longtime employees. Created by former CEO G.J. Hart, it’s called the Hart and Soul award, and it’s reserved for someone who’s “done something kind of heroic or has been a legendary contributor to the company,” Coleman says.
Coleman was asked to create a fixture to display the awards, and he went with mixed materials, as with the rest of the company’s spaces. It’s multi-layered and colorful, with a glass layer, LED lights and reclaimed wood.
The Hart and Soul award has four recipients to date -- including Coleman. Each receives a corten steel “Hart” charm, which their name is etched into with a laser jet.
“It’s a big ‘attaboy’ in a very prominent space,” Coleman says, noting that the award generally is presented in front of 800 vendors, general managers and more at the company’s annual operator conference.
Flags near the entry to the kitchen represent each of the countries in which California Pizza Kitchen has franchises.
“When we sign a new country or a new franchise agreement, it’s easy to gather in the kitchen and have a toast around a communal table and add a flag,” Coleman says.
Clocks set to times in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and other locales also acknowledge the company’s global scale.
The office’s reception area is casually known as The Joy Zone, where receptionist Joy Williams greets guests by name, from vendors to those coming in for interviews, and wishes them luck with their meetings.
“She is the best brand ambassador for CPK you could ever dream of,” Coleman says.
Williams even has a plaque on her desk that reads “The Joy Zone.” When first-time guests depart, she presents them with a reusable California Pizza Kitchen shopping bag, a “Be My Guest” discount card for an appetizer and dessert at a restaurant location and a menu.
“Joy sets them on the right path to hopefully become a very loyal and lifelong customer of CPK,” Coleman says, “and she does it with pleasure.”
This wall is littered to thank-you notes guests have sent to receptionist Joy Williams, as well as other employees. There’s also a TV running on loop displaying the company’s charity efforts.
“It’s meant to make you smile and feel good,” Coleman says. “It's our way of giving back, and it's our way of letting people know that we do give back.”
Whether they’re auditors or people from the field, the California Pizza Kitchen office has to accommodate visitors often. Coleman calls extra workstations “hoteling spaces,” where visitors can sit and plug in their laptop for the day.
One large room that was vacant for the first couple of years has become a training room, where managers or regional directors who come in for periodic trainings spend their time. In addition to tables and chairs that can accommodate 30 to 45 people, it features theater curtains that mask sound from a large audio-video system.
When it’s not in use for trainings, “we can fold the curtains back, move the tables and chairs and do yoga,” Coleman says.