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Blaze-Pizza-New-Signature-Collection.png Blaze Pizza
Blaze Pizza’s new signature pizza collection, which launched in June.

Behind the scenes of Blaze Pizza’s transformation

The fast-casual restaurant chain recently launched a new menu for the first time in 10 years, and that’s only the beginning.

Blaze Pizza attracted attention last month when it announced it was re-vamping its signature menu line, the first such overhaul in the restaurant’s 12-year history. But the new menu is only the beginning, as the Pasadena, Calif.-based fast-casual restaurant brand has many more plans in store, from redesigns to a long-term charity partnership.

“We are introducing our purpose for existing,” said CEO Beto Guajardo at a June event launching new menu items and the charity partnership.

Beto-Guajardo-Blaze-Pizza-CEO.pngGuajardo joined Blaze in early 2023 from Focus Brands, and while he had plenty of big ideas, he wanted to spend time talking to everyone in the company before putting plans into action. The first major change was the new signature pizzas.

“The pizzas are bigger, better value,” he said. “More ingredients, more value versus what you were getting previously.” The pizzas cost the same as the older versions, which altogether made up just 11% of the company’s sales mix, the rest being mainly build-your-own pizzas.

The original signature line was designed to give customers a baseline if they didn’t want to jump straight into the brand’s “build-your-own pizza” ethos. After a while, though, they weren’t needed for that purpose.

“It didn’t serve us anymore,” said chef Matt Eland, who joined Blaze in August 2022. “We want a great pizza that makes [customers] go, ‘That’s the one I want, and I don’t need to do anything else to it.’”

The new signature line, which launched last month, includes five pizzas:

  • The Carnivore, with pepperoni slices, julienned ham, crumbled meatballs, housemade tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and a Balsamic drizzle;
  • The Meatball Pie, with crumbled meatballs, house-made tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, and dollops of ricotta cheese;
  • The Blazed BBQ Chicken, with BBQ sauce, mozzarella cheese, grilled chicken, red onions, pickled jalapeño peppers, and ranch dressing;
  • The Herbivore, with spicy red sauce, shredded mozzarella, mushrooms, roasted garlic, tomatoes, banana peppers, arugula, and olive oil; and
  • The Four Cheese, with house-made red sauce, shredded mozzarella, Ovalini mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, and a swirl of olive oil.

It won’t be another decade before the next update. “Our intention is to continue to expand that signature menu,” Guajardo said.

Blaze PizzaSpicy-Pepperoni-Fast-Fire'd-Fold.png

The Spicy Pepperoni Fast Fire’d Fold is based on calzones and strombolis.

The chain is also introducing a plethora of other menu items this summer, including cinnamon bread, sweet and spicy drizzles, spicy pepperoni pizza, spicy cheesy bread, a pepperoni fold, meatballs, salads, and dressings.

The Spicy Pepperoni Fast Fire’d Fold is based on calzones and strombolis. It includes mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, oregano, pepperoni, and either spicy heat or spicy sweet drizzle, and comes with two side cups of savory red sauce.

“We were really looking to find another item that used the products we already had, but in a different way,” said Eland. “It’s a lot more portable, almost like a sandwich” for eating on the go.

The Cinnamon Bread uses the same house-made dough that’s used for Blaze’s pizzas, topped with cinnamon sugar and royal white icing.

“This was an idea that came from our franchise system,” Eland said. “Sometimes the simplest ideas, the most obvious, can escape you. It can take someone saying, ‘Guys, what are you doing? The answer’s right there.’”

Blaze PizzaCinnamon-Bread_2.png

The Cinnamon Bread uses the same house-made dough that’s used for Blaze’s pizzas, topped with cinnamon sugar and royal white icing.

As for the drizzles — a Hot Chili Oil drizzle infused with Calabrian Chilis and a Sweet Hot Honey drizzle combining honey, fiery red chili peppers, and vinegar — Eland and his team were inspired by classic New York pizzerias (he spent a decade living in Brooklyn).

“A lot of it’s drawing from classic pizza culture,” he said. “We want to be available to everybody. At its core, it’s just great, traditional pizza culture. … What we want to do is say, ‘These aren’t items that you’ve never seen before, but you haven’t seen them like this.’”

That inspiration has certainly won over at least one New Yorker: franchisee Aret Lerian, who bought four locations in the New York area and Connecticut about six months ago and is looking to expand. He started out franchising Popeyes restaurants and was more than a little skeptical when his business partner suggested getting into Blaze.

“I’m a New Yorker,” Lerian said. “I grew up in Queens. I have my three favorite pizzerias, and [I said at the time,] ‘I’m not going into a franchise pizza model.’”

Needless to say, one visit to Blaze convinced him otherwise, and he is “blown away” by the new menu.

Fellow franchisee Martha Olmos, who owns 19 stores in central California, shared that sentiment. “Innovation is crucial to any brand,” she said. “As a multi-unit franchisee, if we’re not changing, we’re dying.”

Of course, with a big menu change like Blaze’s comes the task of training the frontline restaurant staff on actually making the new items.

“Our operations team put together a great training program, mechanisms to help our store team members understand what a perfect pizza looks like,” said Guajardo. “Complete with pictures, assembly instructions, videos to do so properly.”

That training effort was spearheaded by Blaze COO Johnny Tellez.

“Something we’re really focusing on are these parameters of what makes a GREAT pizza,” he said, noting the acronym: Golden brown, Round, Evenly topped, Accurately prepared, and Thin and crispy. “When you walk into a Blaze, I want you to say, ‘That’s a Blaze Pizza.’”

Tellez and Blaze work with Opus Training to create micro training sessions, 30-60 second videos sent straight to employees’ phones every day for five days.

“We’re putting training directly into employees’ hands,” he said.

Elsewhere in the company’s C-suite, chief development officer Kevin Moran is focused on growing Blaze’s footprint and attracting new franchisees. According to Technomic data, Blaze closed 2023 with 295 U.S. units, mostly in Southern California. It’s also in Canada, opening in Bahrain this summer, and has contracted five units in the UAE.

“Obviously diversifying the menu and the innovation that comes from it, this helps us stay relevant in the marketplace,” Moran said. “It also shows the franchising community that we’re investing in the growth of the brand.”

The company is also launching a remodel for new units.

“Every unit that opens from today going forward is going to have our reimage, our remodel, our redesign. We’re also going to be converting older units — we’re offering up a three-tier strategy,” Moran said, offering anything from cosmetic updates to a bigger investment in new flooring and equipment.

The company hopes to have every store transitioned in three years.

“The new image has a lot of the old elements that we thought were really, really good,” Moran said. “We tried to bridge the gap so it wasn’t a complete change, where you had to tear down walls.”

Additionally, Blaze is looking at different footprints. Existing stores are about 2,200 to 3,000 square feet, but Moran said they’re looking at options as small as 800 square feet. The new Bahrain store is 1,200 square feet.

“You show us a place where you think you can make money, we’ll find a way to get a Blaze in it,” he said. “We want to find ways to be creative. Real estate’s tough, construction costs are tough, capital’s … more costly than it was in the past. Building a restaurant’s hard. So if I can shrink the footprint, I can shrink the investment, I can shorten the return on investment, and there we go.”

Blaze Pizza also recently introduced its first long-term charity partnership with Folds of Honor, an organization that grants scholarships to families of fallen or disabled military and first responders. Round-up options at the register will launch in August, and the brand is using the new foldable menu items to promote the partnership as well.

The company is also launching “Trail Blaze-ing Pie-oneers,” a program to recognize and honor people making a difference in their communities. Through this program, Blaze donated $10,000 in June to Folds of Honor, and another $10,000 to franchisee Wayne Albritton’s Flames of Support program, which allows employees to provide financial assistance to colleagues facing tough situations like fires, natural disasters, or illness.

Albritton, who owns 27 units in Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee, including the brand’s flagship Disney Springs location, is excited about Trail Blaze-ing Pie-oneers because it’s an extension of local charity work franchisees have been doing.

“We do a lot of charity work in our local communities, but we’ve never been able to talk about a national relationship where the entire system is in support and in partnership [like] with Folds of Honor,” he said.

It’s a lot of changes and product launches at once, and Blaze seems to only be getting started.

“We’ve got a lot more coming,” Moran said. “This is the tip of the iceberg here.”

Contact Leigh Anne at [email protected]

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