California Pizza Kitchen has built its name by getting consumers to expect the unexpected — like Brussels sprouts and bacon pizza. Now the company is applying that same sense of adventure to its beverage offerings.
They've offered beer and wine since they opened in 1985, but now they're adding wine flights, new craft beers and what they call the "Diet Pepsi Mixology program," which is where they offer unique Pepsi-juice combinations like Diet Pepsi with a SoBe low-calorie beverage, fresh blueberries, passion fruit, blood orange and pomegranate melange.
For the wine flights, customers can choose from one of three flights: white, red or "adventurous," which consists of three 3-ounce pours for $12.
"It really gives someone who may not understand that much about wine or doesn't really know what they like or dislike and it gives them a wide range they can try at a reasonable price," said California Pizza Kitchen CEO G.J. Hart.
The adventurous flight, for the record, includes Jacob's Creek Moscato, Markham Merlot and Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon. They were already on the menu but the company says the wines were selected for the "adventurous" list as they were wines new wine drinkers might not necessarily try on their own.
"We wanted to have a more adventuresome wine list, things that you may not see everywhere, and wines that may not be your run-of-the-mill-type brands," Hart said.
The chance to explore doesn't just come in small servings. If the customer finds a wine they like, they can up size to a larger glass with a 6- or 9-ounce pours.
Ultimately Hart has larger ambitions as to what the California Pizza Kitchen wine list will look like beyond just offering a wider selection. Hart sees creative partnerships at both the national and local level as a way of allowing the chain to offer wines to consumers that they won't find anywhere else.
The company has already taken that approach with one wine: It has partnered with the maker of Colby Red, a wine inspired by a young boy named Colby Groom, who suffers from a serious heart illness. The wine was created by the boy's father, a winemaker, and proceeds from the sale of the wine will benefit heart charities nationwide. The company is considering launching additional charitable wine programs throughout the year.
On a local level, Hart hopes to involve smaller wineries that may have limited quantities or lack distribution and give them the opportunity to potentially service nearby California Pizza Kitchen restaurants.
"The idea is they would come in, help us pour those wines and help support the effort to get those wines on the map," Hart said. "It becomes more specialized in nature. If you really want a unique glass of wine that you can't get somewhere else, you could potentially get it at California Pizza Kitchen."
The chain is also expanding its beer offerings to include Newcastle Brown Ale, Crispin Artisanal Cider and craft brewers like Stone Brewing and Rogue Ales. Going forward, all draft beers will be served as 18-ounce pours and craft beer will come in 22-ounce bottles when available.
"It's all about creating a sense of adventure around our food and being able to be an innovator again in food and beverage and leading the way again like California Pizza Kitchen did in putting California-style pizza on the map," Hart said.
So now, the only question is: What wine pairs well with Brussels sprouts and bacon pizza?!
-By CNBC's Tom Rotunno; Follow him on Twitter @TomRotunno
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