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Fast, artisanal pizza is coming to Williamsburg in the form of “Blaze Pizza,” a new make-your-own pizza place opening in New Town on Thursday.
The new restaurant is the 97th location the chain has opened nationwide since it debuted in Irvine, California in August 2012.
The idea for a quick and customized lunchtime pizza place was born when founders Rick and Elise Wetzel, the restaurateurs behind national chain Wetzel’s Pretzels, stopped by a Chipotle for lunch one afternoon even though they were really craving pizza.
Inspired by Chipotle’s fast, casual dining model but disappointed that similarly styled restaurants offering different types of cuisine were not more widespread, the Wetzels began talking about the possibility of opening up a Chipotle-style pizza place. Elise grabbed a napkin and began sketching out plans for what would become Blaze Pizza right then and there.
Like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza features an assembly line setup. Customers line up at one end of the counter and move down the line, selecting their crust, sauce, cheese and toppings as they progress.
Once assembled, the pizza is cooked in an open, fast-fire oven for three minutes and then served up to the customer. The entire process from start to finish takes eight to 10 minutes, said Jay Jay Hernandez, a trainer with Blaze Pizza’s corporate office who travels around the country helping orient the staff at newly opened locations.
Bob Parsons and Lamar Sale, franchise partners at the new location, were attracted to the chain for several reasons. During their time as owners of several Wendy’s franchises in other parts of Virginia, they became interested in branching out and discovering the next big thing in fast-casual dining, which led them to California to research a number of different up-and-coming chains, Blaze Pizza among them.
“Blaze had the most energy,” Parsons said of what made the chain stand out from the pack.
Additionally, both Parsons and Sale cited the importance of investing in a place that was accessible for the “lunch break” crowd – working people who have as little as 30 minutes for lunch and need to eat somewhere that can get them their food quickly.
Blaze Pizza emphasizes speed, but it also taps into the increasing demand for customizable menu options, something traditional fast food restaurants lack.
With two types of crust, three sauces, eight cheeses, eight types of meat, 18 types of vegetables and four “finishes,” which include swirls of pesto and barbecue sauce, there is no shortage of options for different types of pies.
“You can get something different every day,” Parsons said.
The restaurant even offers accommodations for people with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free crust and vegan cheese.
Parsons and Sale decided to join the Blaze Pizza family, but the next question was where their restaurant might be a good fit. They ultimately settled on Williamsburg to be the site of the first Blaze Pizza location in Virginia.
“We’re excited to be in Williamsburg. We knew William and Mary is here, and it’s a great town,” Sale said.
This Blaze Pizza location will have all the same offerings as the 95 locations that preceded it, including a menu of eight signature pies to choose from or a build-your own option that allows customers to dream up their own unique creation. Both the signature and build-your-own pizzas are 11 inches and cost $7.95, which includes as many toppings as you want.
“We never charge extra for more toppings,” Hernandez said. “If you start to pick so many that our thin crust might get weighed down, we’ll let you know but we never say no.”
Customers can also opt for a simpler pie at a reduced price; a plain cheese pizza is $5, and a one topping pie is $6.50.
The restaurant offers a few other selections, like craft beers and wines, salads and a dessert “s’more pie,” but pizzas are the main attraction.
Blaze Pizza officially opens this Thursday, but with the closest Blaze Pizza franchise located in Raleigh, North Carolina, Parsons and Sale expect some people may need some enticement to try the chain for the first time.
In order to give prospective customers a chance to see what the restaurant has to offer they are holding a free pizza day Friday for anyone who comes in and shows they have “liked” the chain’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
“We think what we do is really unique,” Parsons said. “We love the idea of artisan-style pizza, and we think people here will love it.”