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How I Made It: Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield

Serving new ideas at CPK

January 25, 2008|Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writer

The gig: Co-founders and co-chief executives of California Pizza Kitchen Inc., which serves California-style cuisine including pizzas, pastas and salads at 228 locations worldwide. The chain recorded a profit of $21 million on revenue of $554.6 million in 2006.

Education: Flax received his bachelor's in business from the University of Washington and his JD and master's in law from USC. Rosenfield attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate, then received his JD from DePaul University in Chicago.

First job: At 15, Flax worked as a dishwasher and caddie at Hillcrest Country Club near Century City, where he's now a member. Rosenfield delivered newspapers in Chicago on his bike when he was 9; when there was too much snow and ice on the ground, he would walk.

History: The longtime pals met in Washington, D.C., in 1969, when they were working as assistant U.S. attorneys for the Department of Justice. Four years later, they formed their own law practice, Flax and Rosenfield Inc., in Beverly Hills.

Got the idea: A shared love of cooking and a growing restlessness with practicing law led the duo to pursue careers as restaurateurs. The original idea was to open a rib joint, but they instead decided to delve into the pizza market because of the food's popularity and endless possibilities.

On the path: Visited other restaurants to get ideas and pitched the concept to potential investors. Lenders "did not want to hear two lawyers were going into the restaurant business," Rosenfield says. "They thought we were out of our minds." With $550,000 from personal loans and investors, they opened the first California Pizza Kitchen in 1985 on South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills.

Number of times you wanted to quit: "Never," Flax says. "But we were scared to death; don't get me wrong."

First big purchase: Both built custom homes in Southern California.

Best-selling pizza: Original BBQ Chicken -- "It's our Big Mac," Flax says.

Personal favorites: Rosenfield likes the Sicilian pizza while Flax favors the BLT pizza "because of the mayonnaise."

Worldwide presence: Westchester-based California Pizza Kitchen has 18 international locations, including restaurants in Mexico, China, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

In the works: Buffalo Chicken pizza will make its debut this year. "Needless to say, it's boneless," Rosenfield says.

Advice: "Don't compete with us," Flax jokes. "Learn as much as you can about what you're getting yourself into, but don't let yourself get scared about taking the risk. Be financially prepared."

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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