A Chipotle-style pizza chain endorsed by LeBron James is taking over America.
Rick Wetzel, Blaze Pizza’s cofounder, told QSR Magazine that he expects to deliver a “big blow” to major delivery chains like Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut.
“Apple dethroned record stores; Netflix killed Blockbuster; and Starbucks is decimating Folgers and Maxwell House,” Wetzel tells the magazine. “I think it’s going to be a big blow to those guys.”
Blaze Pizza plans to have 500 locations by 2020.
The chain opened 50 restaurants across the US in 2014 in cities like Miami, Washington DC, and New Orleans. This year it plans to open 60 to 70 new locations.
Celebrities like LeBron James and Maria Shriver have invested in the brand, which is based in Southern California.
Much like Chipotle or Subway, Blaze Pizza emphasizes customization.
Customers build pizzas by choosing from seven cheeses, eight proteins, 20 vegetables, and three sauces, Jim Mizes, the president and chief operating officer, told Business Insider.
The pizzas are then placed in a stone hearth oven. They’re ready in about three minutes.
In 2011, Rick and Elise Wetzel, founders of Wetzel’s Pretzels, went looking for a fast-casual pizza chain. They came up empty-handed.
The couple enlisted the help of renowned pizza chef Bradford Kent to open a “better pizza” chain.
“Until recently, your only options were the big, traditional pizza chains or sit-down restaurants,” Mizes said. “We wanted to build something with a modern twist that would resonate with millennials.”
Mizes said the fresh ingredients and stone hearth oven made the product taste better. Blaze Pizza makes the dough by hand and lets it rise for 24 hours before serving.
Prices range from $5 to $10, depending on toppings.
“We’re taking pizza back to its roots,” he said. “If you use the method of putting pizza on a conveyer oven, you’re going to get a less-quality product.”
While Blaze Pizza has a variety of pies on the menu, Mizes estimates 90% of orders are customized in some way.
This is where pizzas go to earn their fast-fire’d stripes. #pizzaparty #blazepizza #howdoyoublaze Photo via @kylekimay
A photo posted by Blaze Pizza (@blazepizza) on Jan 24, 2015 at 7:41pm PST
The chain’s modern architecture was influenced by Chipotle. The restaurants have a sleek, modern, urban feel with lots of stainless steel and reclaimed wood.
“The atmosphere helps bring out the quality of the product,” Mizes said. “If you eat a Chipotle burrito in a Taco Bell, it’s not going to taste as good.”
The chain also trains workers to greet and engage with customers.
You + here = custom-built pizza. #blazepizza #blazeorbust #howdoyoublaze Insta photo via @kfrederick7
A photo posted by Blaze Pizza (@blazepizza) on Nov 18, 2014 at 2:06pm PST
Blaze Pizza has some competition.
Chipotle is opening its third Pizzeria Locale. The chain is very similar to Blaze Pizza.
Other fast-casual chains, like PizzaRev, have also expanded in popularity.
What fast-fire’d pizza would you like to find under the tree? #wishlist #blazepizza #howdoyoublaze Insta photo via @mellowmarie
A photo posted by Blaze Pizza (@blazepizza) on Dec 23, 2014 at 2:40pm PST
But Mizes says getting into the business early has benefitted his brand.
“We got into the game early and have the wind at our backs,” he said. “We’re opening a new restaurant every five days and will just keep growing.”
Here are some selections from Blaze Pizza’s menu.