Where did Blaze Pizza come from?
Blaze was the mind meld of the Wetzel’s Pretzels founders, who were driving around Pasadena, California, hankering for a pizza place to conduct a lunch meeting in 2011, but didn’t like the options. Frustrated, they went to Chipotle, and there, watching the assembly line, they had an epiphany: “We should do this for pizza!”
As legend has it, they then sketched the business plan for Blaze right there on a Chipotle napkin. My guess is it just said, “Chipotle, but Pizza.”
A year later, they opened their first two Blaze Pizzas simultaneously in Pasadena and Irvine, converting giant wood-fired pizza ovens into giant gas-powered pizza ovens, which would be easier to control and replicate while still cooking pizzas in 180 seconds. But Blaze got its biggest boost in publicity when LeBron James (as well as other famous folks like Maria Shriver) invested in the company and became a public spokesman. From there, Blaze’s growth exploded, with Technomic naming it “fastest growing restaurant chain ever” after they opened 200 locations in just 5 years. They now have over 300 locations, and told QSR they hope to have 500 by 2021.
Some quick competitor context:
Blaze’s sit-down, beer-inclusive approach to pizza puts it in a completely different category than the likes of Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars, as does the highly personalized experience of ordering their “artisanal” pizzas, which come flying out of the oven quicker than you can say “30 minutes or less.” It basically exists in a weird middle ground between a fast-food pizza experience and a sleek, modern update of a family pizzeria. But it’s not alone in the category. It’s not even the only one with backing from an NBA legend.
Blaze’s main fast-casual pizza competitor, Washington-based MOD Pizza, has 430 stores in the US and the UK. California-based Pieology, which counts other very good basketball player Kevin Durant as an investor, has roughly 150 locations. PizzaRev, which sounds like a very cool youth minister, has around 50 stores. 800 Degrees, with around 15 stores, has yet ANOTHER very good NBA basketball player Dwyane Wade as an investor. For more information on all basketball and non-basketball related fast-casual pizza chains, read this!
What is Blaze Pizza trying to do now?
In short, Blaze is using the franchise model to grow very fast, as part of what appears to be some sort of pizza arms race with MOD (which interestingly enough, have opted to keep most of its stores corporate-owned, like Chipotle). With an extremely famous investor, experienced co-founders, and an industry declaration as “fastest growing restaurant chain ever,” Blaze seems to be holding a lot of good cards, so it’ll be interesting to see how they play their hand (poker metaphors!).
But how, you might ask, are they marketing themselves to us?