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California pizza Kitchen's recipe of entrepreneurship and grass-roots marketing is a lot less complicated than its pizza toppings.

The marketing effort, led by Sarah Goldsmith, the company's 31-year-old VP-advertising and PR, has helped build CPK into the No.*3 casual-dining Italian restaurant chain. With the system's $128 million in sales last year, restaurant consultancy Technonics says CPK's sales growth rate of 28% outpaced market leader Olive Garden and up-and-comer Pizzeria Uno.

Ms. Goldsmith's strategy, given the company's relatively few 80 units in 18 states, was to use PR extensively.

CPK's history is great media fodder. A pizza chain with an unusual menu including toppings such as Santa Fe Burrito and Tandoori chicken, begun by two ex-federal prosecutors with no restaurant experience, CPK became so successful it drew the attention of PepsiCo, which now has an equity interest.

Ms. Goldsmith took that story to new heights with promoting coverage by CNN, national and local TV, and articles in magazines including Money, Self and Seventeen.

CPK's big break came in '95, when Ms. Goldsmith worked with American Express to create a national AmEx commercial featuring CPK for its green card.

Having caught the ad bug, CPK selected Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., to test its own advertising in the Washington area, in late '95.

Ms. Goldsmith has other plans to hike sales. The company just issued a CPK cookbook, touted by Ms. Goldsmith's team on a 12-city media tour.

Moreover, CPK is looking to expand with new CPK ASAP quick-serve outlets in airports and other locations.

Judann Pollack

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