With its customizable pies à la Chipotle’s assembly-line method, three-minute baking time and Uber-style delivery model, Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza means to disrupt the traditional pizza business.
After opening its 71st location this week, in Southern California, with plans to have 500 US locations by 2020, the brand is well on its way to delivering what co-founder Rick Wetzel told QSR Magazine would be a huge attack against major delivery chains Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s.
The sky is the limit for Blaze Pizza’s ambitions as the leader of the do-it-yourself pizzeria trend. “Apple dethroned record stores; Netflix killed Blockbuster; and Starbucks is decimating Folgers and Maxwell House,” Wetzel told QSR. “I think it’s going to be a big blow to those guys.”
Blaze customers build pizzas by choosing from a variety of cheeses, proteins, vegetables and three sauces, which are placed on a hand-made crust that has risen for 24 hours. Then the pizza is placed in a stone-hearth oven and cooked to 800 degrees or more. All that for $5 to $10 apiece depending on toppings.
Leveraging this formula, Blaze has blazed into Canada this year through an agreement with a big franchisee that wants to open at least 60 locations. And Blaze will be coming to the Disney Springs development at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
brandchannel talked with Jim Mizes, president and chief operating officer of Blaze about the brand’s expansion strategy.
brandchannel: How do you keep the momentum going for Blaze as you battle not only the traditional pizza industry but also competition with their own do-it-yourself models?
Jim Mizes: A number of ways. We think the wind is at our back. For one thing, the fast-casual segment is what’s growing most in the restaurant business. We are popular with millennials, who push for higher quality and an elevated guest experience. Plus our management has been around.
The hardest thing about momentum is to get it in the first place. Then you have to keep tweaking things to make sure you maintain it. This involves choosing great real estate for our restaurants and franchises. We favor multi-unit operators for our franchisees. Then you need superior execution. If you don’t capture the opportunity and execute well, keeping your momentum can be a problem.
bc: What is the importance of food-sourcing issues and a sustainable supply chain in your brand positioning and business model?
Mizes: From the beginning three years ago, we have talked about Blaze as an intelligent choice for people, pizza and the planet. We’re making great progress on this front. We started moving toward this goal a year ago, and by the end of this year we will be able to say all of our food—with the carve out for soda—has no artificial colors, fillers, flavors or preservatives. We need to be transparent and communicate the better-for-you nature of our ingredients.
bc: How do you try to innovate in delivery, which has been so important to the growth of traditional pizza brands?
Mizes: The guys who have been around exist because of pizza for delivery and takeout, and pizza consumed at night. Our business is 50 percent lunch and 50 percent dinner.
For delivery, we have leveraged the “sharing” economy and Uber-style delivery services, Postmates and so on. They tip the scales in our favor compared with the other guys, disrupting the old model. We work with a number of delivery services, none of which are national at this point. It’s too early to pick the winners in that regard.
bc: Your executive team has said some pretty provocative things about leveling the Big Three in the pizza business the same way that Netflix vanquished Blockbuster, for instance. Why so optimistic?
Mizes: We’ve created a better pizza experience. It was never available for lunch before because it took so long. We also offer a value experience. And the sharing-economy delivery model is disruptive to the chains.
bc: What have you gained through celebrity involvement with your brand, including LeBron James and Maria Shriver? Was that serendipitous or strategic?
Mizes: It was some of both. Our co-founder, Rick Wetzel, involved John Davis, the son of Marvin Davis and a Hollywood producer, as an early investor in Wetzel’s Pretzels, which has been a big success. Wetzel went back to him about Blaze, and Davis put a group of celebrities together.
It gives you great early PR and validation. But they are celebrity investors, not spokespeople. LeBron James is not endorsing Blaze—but he’s certainly eating it.