Blaze Pizza is on fire.
The Chipotle-style pizza chain is now backed by longtime investor LeBron James, who opted not to represent McDonald’s in favour of Blaze.
Blaze Pizza opened 50 restaurants across the US in 2014, and it is opening a new location every five days.
Cofounder Rick Wetzel told QSR Magazine he expected the Southern California-based chain to deliver a “big blow” to major delivery chains such as Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Pizza Hut in the same way Netflix killed Blockbuster.
We visited Blaze Pizza’s Fremont, California, restaurant earlier this year to see whether the pizza really was fit for a king. King James, that is.
During a recent weekday dinner hour, I stopped by Blaze Pizza's sunny Fremont, California, location.
The chain's modern architecture was influenced by fast-casual competitor Chipotle, Blaze Pizza president and COO Jim Mizes told Business Insider. The restaurants have a sleek, urban feel with lots of stainless steel and reclaimed wood.
Executive chef and cofounder Bradford Kent greeted us at the door. Blaze Pizza's founders enlisted the help of the so-called 'Pizza Whisperer' at the start.
A student of the food sciences, Chef Brad spent seven years perfecting his pizza dough before launching the Zagat-rated Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles, California. He joined the Blaze Pizza team to widen the reach of artisanal pizza.
And oh, what a dough! Kent's recipe combines three styles of dough, fermented over 24 hours, that are made throughout the day at each restaurant.
Like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza uses an assembly-style format that lets guests customise a 'signature pizza' from the menu board or create their own.
There are as many as seven cheeses, eight proteins, 20 vegetables, and four sauces to choose from. No matter how many toppings you add, the pizza costs the same: $7.95 and up, depending on location.
Chef Brad takes pride in the brand's offerings. 'Blaze didn't invent the assembly line,' he told us. 'They infused it with (the highest-quality) culinary ingredients.'
For my first pizza, I opted to build my own. Chef Brad took a slab of dough and placed it on this machine, which flattens and shapes its crust in the metal plate's rim.
Seconds later, he lifted the dough off the plate and placed it on a wood peel for transportation down the assembly line.
I chose the spicy red sauce, infused with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, cayenne, jalapeño, and California-grown heirloom garlic.
When it came time to pick toppings, Chef Brad encouraged me that 'less is more.' The meatballs, made with all-white turkey meat and portobello mushrooms, had me drooling.
Chef Brad said he tried 80 different mozzarellas before selecting this prized, tender shred for the restaurant.
To top it off, I added Italian sausage, red onions, black olives, chunks of zucchini, and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Blaze Pizza's thin-crust pies cook in just 180 seconds in this 3-ton oven, outfitted with a stone hearth and open flames on three sides.
The oven has a BTU range 15 times that of a home oven -- 'we're talking about a lot of firepower,' Chef Brad says. He twirled the pizza several times so it didn't burn too much on one side.
Voilà! Three minutes later, my individual pizza emerged hot and crispy on the edges. The chef cut it into six slices and boxed it up.
My eyes rolled back at first bite; it was that good. I couldn't believe I was eating a fast-casual pizza. Thin, light on the sauce, pliable enough to be folded in half, and wood-fired, it reminded me of pies at my favourite Brooklyn pizzeria, Roberta's.
That's no coincidence, Chef Brad said. 'New Yorkers make food with grit,' he said. 'It's not because they have the best water. It's because someone back there (in the kitchen) gives a care.'
I liked it so much I ordered a second pie to bring home. The Green Stripe, a pesto-sauced pizza topped with grilled chicken, arugula, roasted red peppers, chopped garlic, and mozzarella, was delicious even reheated in my oven.
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