The 300-location mark is a pretty 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, but when the company ticked over 300 in November 2018, CEO Jim Mizes didn’t spend a long time patting his back.
“I can be guilty of not celebrating where we have been, but really it’s what comes next within the evolution from the blaze pizza menu to get us from 300 to 700 or whatever is next,” said Mizes.
Founders Rick and Elise Wetzel built that growth mindset right in to the brand DNA. So even at 176 percent sales growth and 121 percent location growth from 2015 through 2017, it’s all part of the plan.
“We always said right away, let’s think and act like we’re a one thousand-restaurant organization,” said co-founder Rick Wetzel. “That meant everything we did from day one, from your numbering systems for the store design, everything was built therefore we could easily get to one thousand.”
And in case anyone could get it done, it’s Rick and Elise, the dynamic Southern California duo behind Wetzel’s Pretzels who were both former brand managers at Nestle.
Since the story goes, they wanted pizza to get a quick lunch, which just wasn’t available. So that they went to Chipotle instead for a burrito and got a hearty part of inspiration, too.
“Just watching that ordering format, we went, ‘Now which is how you will would get pizza at lunch,’” said Elise. “That was the gaping hole. Literally we left that Chipotle and that i knew. I looked at Rick and said, ‘We’re planning to open blaze aren’t we?’ He stated, ‘Yes our company is.’”
The two have been pondering their next act after selling Wetzel’s Pretzels to some private equity firm in 2007, with Wetzel’s again changing hands in 2016. Though with that cash in the bank and also the knowledge of growing to fsdlws than 300 locations, they knew that they had to visit fast. Rick is definitely the archetypal idea man who simply can’t sit still while the zen-like Elise charts the brand’s north star. They got to work before their burritos had even digested.
“We happened to be qualified to make a run at it, so that we said, ‘Lets go,’” said Rick.
From your first conversation, they designed the company to develop at a rapid clip. “We knew it will be competitive and that we knew it was going to go very, very fast. If anyone was going to 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, an experienced franchise executive, came on as CEO when there have been just two restaurants. Executive chef Brad Kent was there before the first store opened in 2011, as was the shop design team.