The 300-location mark is a fairly big deal in franchising; it’s a milestone that few concepts ever reach. Just 108 franchised brands have grown beyond the 300 mark. It was a nice milestone at Blaze, however when the company ticked over 300 in November 2018, CEO Jim Mizes didn’t spend too much time patting his back.
“I can be responsible for not celebrating where we have been, but really it’s what comes next in the evolution in the blaze pizza prices to have us from 300 to 700 or whatever is next,” said Mizes.
Founders Rick and Elise Wetzel built that growth mindset right to the brand DNA. So even at 176 percent sales growth and 121 percent location growth from 2015 through 2017, it’s all area of the plan.
“We always said right from the start, let’s think and act like we’re a 1,000-restaurant organization,” said co-founder Rick Wetzel. “That meant everything we did from day one, through the numbering systems for the store design, everything was built so that we could get to one thousand.”
And if anyone could do it, it’s Rick and Elise, the dynamic Los Angeles duo behind Wetzel’s Pretzels who have been both former brand managers at Nestle.
Because the story goes, they wanted pizza to get a quick lunch, which just wasn’t available. So that they visited Chipotle instead for any burrito and got a hearty portion of inspiration, too.
“Just watching that ordering format, we went, ‘Now that is certainly how you will would get pizza at lunch,’” said Elise. “That was the gaping hole. Literally we left that Chipotle and i also knew. I considered Rick and said, ‘We’re planning to open what time does blaze pizza close aren’t we?’ He said, ‘Yes our company is.’”
Both have been pondering their next act after selling Wetzel’s Pretzels to a private equity firm in 2007, with Wetzel’s again changing hands in 2016. However with that money inside the bank and the knowledge of growing to fsdlws than 300 locations, they knew that they had to travel fast. Rick is definitely the archetypal idea man who simply can’t sit still whilst the zen-like Elise charts the brand’s north star. They got to work before their burritos had even digested.
“We happened to become qualified to make a run at it, so we said, ‘Lets go,’” said Rick.
Through the first conversation, they designed the brand to develop with a rapid clip. “We knew it might be competitive and that we knew it was going to go very, very fast. If someone would own the market, they would have to move quickly and execute extremely, extremely well,” said Rick.
Keeping that growth from becoming a chaotic mess, however, meant an early investment in people, systems, processes and other growth investments well ahead of the actual restaurant count. Mizes, a skilled franchise executive, came on as CEO when there have been just two restaurants. Executive chef Brad Kent was there before the very first store opened in the year 2011, as was a store design team.