Last winter, my son was invited to a friend’s birthday party to be held at California Pizza Kitchen, located on Blackstone and Nees in the Villagio Shopping Center. The party was set for 9:30am on a Saturday, and I remember thinking it was a bit early for pizza but, sure – why not? Turns out, it’s always a good time for pizza and it’s especially a good time for a pizza birthday for kids as they get the whole restaurant to themselves! I was reminded of what a great party this is for kids when we went back for another friend’s birthday last weekend, and thought, “other parents in Fresno need to know about this option” and decided to snap some pictures to share with you as I explain why.
Parents, take note: California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) does a seriously fantastic job hosting kids parties.
And yes, typically try to support and write about locally owned businesses whenever possible over chains, but our locally operated CPK is actually quite a gem to be proud of. Why? Two reasons:
- Wonderful customer service. I have had such a great experience each time I’ve gone from the time I arrive with hosts opening doors and greeting me warmly to great table service, being greeted by the manager (every time), to having to-go items packed and the door opened again as I’m leaving. This location does customer service right. (In fact, I learned it’s known for this by corporate too, and has been used as a training site for other locations.)
- Fresh, tasty food. I’ve never had a wilted piece of lettuce in a salad or a cold, greasy pizza that seems like it’s been under a heat lamp too long at this CPK. The food always tastes like it was just made and from very fresh ingredients. I know this is what diners expect whenever eating out, but it doesn’t always happen. This restaurant has been consistently excellent every time I’ve been.
Now, back to the birthday party… at CPK, parties start at 9:30 and each child will cost $10 (adults can order food off the menu as well, at menu pricing). This morning start time allows kids the run of the restaurant before it opens for lunch, which is great for parents too (subtext: even if your kid hasn’t nailed perfect restaurant etiquette and “inside voice” just yet, there are no other diners to tick off). All guests get a guided tour (by the manager, Kelly Baker, who is incredibly patient, friendly and welcoming to even large groups of young kids) and the kids learn a little about every area of the restaurant. (Do you know what the most expensive item in the restaurant is? How about what percent of CPK’s orders are take out? My kid does since his tour!)
The kitchen tour includes a behind the scenes look at giant ice makers, dry food storage, the prep station along with chefs preparing food for the day, a walk-in tour of the deep freezer (this was very exciting to the kids) and giant fridge, and finally, a tour of the front cooking area including the pizza prep bar and stone oven. (No, the kids don’t go in the oven. Don’t freak out on me.)
As far as the flow of the party from start to finish, guests arrive and are given a blank pizza box and crayons to customize it with while they wait for everyone to get there. Kids have the option of leaving their box behind to decorate the restaurant walls for the week ahead or taking them home. Once everyone has arrived, the tour begins and takes about 15-20 minutes. Following the tour, kids are split into groups to custom make their own pizzas. The crust is prepared and kids get to spread on sauce and cheese, then choose any combination of the restaurant’s toppings that they like for their own, personal pizza.
Kids who’ve prepped their pizzas return to their seats to finish their artwork and all of the pizzas are put into the oven by the CPK cooks. They bake quickly and are brought to the kids to enjoy. (Drinks are also provided.)
After pizza, there’s a perfect opportunity to open gifts or sing happy birthday with cake if you like. Then, the server brings all of the kids an ice cream sundae. Ok. Can we just pause for a minute here?
I know ice cream is a delicious treat most people love. That’s a no-brainer. But, there is something about the ice cream and whipped cream they have at CPK that tastes more like homemade vanilla than anything I’ve ever had (except for maybe, homemade vanilla). I normally can resist ice cream. I like it, but I’m not an addict (cheese? that’s another story…) but the ice cream at CPK is my absolute favorite. (Order one or steal some of your kid’s – trust me!)
Ok, now that I’ve provided you with that important public- service announcement, we can continue… The party wraps up after dessert and each of the kids receive a little VIP (Very Important Pizza maker) card that entitles them to a free kid’s meal on your next family visit to the restaurant. Sounding like a great idea yet? Did I mention that the birthday kiddo gets a chef’s jacket? No? I should have because it’s true and super cute!
Let me add in the factor that’s the kicker for me:
When I arrived at the party this past weekend, we were running a couple minutes late and I’d brought one of my son’s friends (who had also been invited) along with us. Both kids sort of timidly approached the group and were immediately welcomed by the friendly server and manager, who looked to me and said, “We’re good mom. You can relax! Go chat and enjoy.” (Yes, really – how often do we parents of young kids get that kind of greeting in a restaurant?) The server and manager introduced themselves to my son and his friend, shook their hands, gave them each a chef’s hat, asked them their names and what they’d like to drink. They called all of the kids by name throughout the party. (No “hey yous” – if you’ve worked with kids before, you know it can be tough to memorize a group of kids’ names quickly, but makes a big difference in helping kids to feel comfortable and important.)
So fellow parents – I’m just going to put this out there. If you’re looking for a place to have a birthday that’s affordable, fun, provides a meal and dessert, is climate-controlled and has a team that treats you and your kids like royalty, I highly recommend our local CPK restaurant. Now, the biggest remaining question I have… can I have my birthday there? Or do I have to be a kid? Mmm… pizza.
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