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Why California Pizza Kitchen is revamping menu, locations: CEO

With more and more consumers looking for fresh, healthy food, California Pizza Kitchen expects to capitalize on the trend.

The 30-year old casual dining chain is renovating its locations and adding new menu items as part of what it calls "the next chapter." That means customers can now order things like halibut, rib eye steak or roasted chicken, CEO G.J. Hart said.

"It's really what's important to us is providing the absolute best quality food that you can and food that's easily understandable—so fresh ingredients, seasonal ingredients but ones that provide good nutrition," he said in a recent interview with CNBC's "Closing Bell."

"In addition to that it's transparency about what you're doing."

Sales in the casual dining space—dominated by food purveyors like Applebees and Chili's—are growing, according to food industry research firm Technomic. It's anticipating a 5.6 percent increase in nominal growth this year, and another 5.6 percent in 2016.

California Pizza Kitchen attributes the growth in the segment to millennials, who are known to care more about transparency and foods that are fresh and less processed.

We're not just pizza

A chef walks towards the entrance of a California Pizza Kitchen Inc. restaurant in New York.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A chef walks towards the entrance of a California Pizza Kitchen Inc. restaurant in New York.

In fact, despite its middle name, only about a third of its California Pizza Kitchen's entrees are pizza, Hart pointed out.

The CEO points out that it's not just the menu getting a makeover. The chain plans to redesign about 80 of its 280 locations this year, with renovations on all restaurants completed by 2016.

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However, while the restaurant has decided to focus on healthier eating, that doesn't mean it's turning its back on pizza. Hart admitted pizza may not be the healthiest choice, but added that it's the ingredients that matter.

"At the end of the day yes, pizza can be bad for you but it's all what you put on it," he said. "If it's all vegetables it's one thing. If it's all high-fat meats it's another thing."

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He also insisted the shift also doesn't mean California Pizza Kitchen is straying away from its brand. Instead it's about bringing the essence of the original CPK and bringing it forward, he said.

That means "first to market, unique, innovative [and] creative," Hart said. "With ingredients … it's having the highest quality we can for our guests."

—CNBC's Laura Petti contributed to this report.