California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) officially opened in Windermere, but it’s been a long time coming for the chain’s first location in Canada, and for the local family that’s opened it.
“We emigrated to Canada in 1981, and we’ve been in the pizza business since 1983,” says CEO Naheed Shariff, whose parents owned several Boston Pizza franchises, giving him early age experience in all things pizza. “We’re a pizza family,” he laughs.
In 2009, the Shariffs took a vacation/taste tour in California, eventually finding themselves in a CPK. It was love at first bite, and every other American vacation they took since then involved hunting down another location. “Then, in 2010, I sent my first fax to California Pizza Kitchen, and said I want to open one of these in Canada. They didn’t respond. So I started finding out who their CEO was. And then I started making phone calls and I just kept peppering.”
Twelve years later, all that peppering paid off, with Canada’s first CPK opening on the south end of Currents of Windermere, across the street from Browns Socialhouse, of which the young entrepreneur is also CEO.
You enter the brand-new building from the west, and the patio’s giant garage doors face south. “This was all intentional,” Shariff says. “So when you’re on the patio, the sunset doesn’t blind you and you get that nice crossover wind. You also don’t actually see the road, only the greenery out front.”
What does the CEO and pizza connoisseur recommend? “The Thai chicken pizza is unbelievable. But we make all our sauces fresh in the back, and we have a barbecue chicken salad with peppers that are roasted and put into the dressing. But lately, the butter cake has been my favourite. Our dessert is the perfect finisher.”
Like all things, the pandemic slowed this family’s CPK goal down, which compounded the pain of losing Shariff’s brother, whom his mother paid tribute to in a speech welcoming everyone to her family’s newest restaurant. “He passed away four years ago, after battling Ewing sarcoma,” Shariff says. “And one of the things that we talked about was to get back into the pizza business together, as a family. He was all about people. He loved people, and he would love this. So this is a statement for him.”
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