How a pizza shop backed by LeBron James became the fastest-growing restaurant chain in history

blaze pizza chain 5The CEO of Blaze Pizza reveals the chain’s secret to becoming the fastest-growing restaurant in U history.Facebook/BlazePizza

In four years, Blaze Pizza has rocketed from two to 200 locations across North America — making it the fastest-growing US food chain ever, according to research firm Technomic.

Blaze Pizza CEO Jim Mizes credits the fast casual chain’s explosion to a commitment to “franchising done right.”

“We believe we’re on our way to [becoming] a billion-dollar brand. I’m excited by that. I’m more excited by the fact that I believe — five years out — we will be able to say that we re-wrote the book on franchisee relationships,” Mizes told Business Insider.

Of the 201 Blaze Pizza restaurants spread across the US and Canada, 196 stores are owned and operated by franchisees, leaving only 2% for the company to run.

This isn’t unusual, but some brands tout the fact that they have a majority of company-owned locations as evidence of superior quality.MOD Pizza is another fast-growing, fast-casual pizza chain with over 200 locations worldwide. Roughly three-quarters of its restaurants are company-owned, which CEO Scott Svenson told Business Insider allows the company to control quality and standards with relative ease.

Mizes rejects the argument that company-owned operations are superior to franchisee-owned.

blaze pizza 5763Blaze Pizza wants to open more than 100 restaurants a year starting in 2018.Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Blaze Pizza partners only with operators who have experience running restaurants. They come from the communities where Blaze is expanding, which Mizes said gives those owners an added incentive to create jobs in their neighborhoods. “They know their people,” Mizes said.

“I believe that’s a much better structure than of competitors of ours like Mod, who is based in Seattle and who wants to go open up a restaurant in Florida. It has to train somebody for three to six months, call them a district manager, and send them out to whatever part of the country they want to send them to, where the know nothing about that community,” Mizes said.

In early July, Blaze Pizza added private equity firm Brentwood Associates to its Rolodex of investors, which includes LeBron James and Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng. It sold a “significant” stake at a valuation of more than $100 millon, Bloomberg reported.

The company plans to open more than 100 restaurants a year beginning in 2018.

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