Reporting live from the flash-fired front of L.A.'s Neapolitan pizza wars! Last month we watched as Adam Fleischman initiated his first mobilization towards an aggressive expansion. The Umami shogun formed a powerful alliance with an anonymous fan, stacking seven-million dollars into his war chest quick on the heels of Blaze Pizza securing backup from the owners of Cold Stone and Which Wich for the introduction of several new locations. These two brand-names are clearly emerging as the central rivals for a slice of the 60-second pie market. So, how do you size up the two competitors as the front expands across L.A. and before long, spreads through the entire country?
Today, The Wall Street Journal gets embedded with Blaze, the flash-fired pizza concept introduced shortly after Flesichman's, to learn that the brand is opening 25 new franchise stores in L.A. in the next five years. Three new leases have already been signed for new local Blaze branches, including a 65-seat Torrance store at Rolling Hills Plaza due in June, plus a 62-seater in La Canada and a 34-seat location in Culver City, both premiering in July.
Franchise partners in Blaze's Culver City and South Bay bases include Table 8's Chris Heyman and Seven For All Mankind jeans founder Peter Koral. General Daniel Driz, the third partner in this triumvirate, even fires a shot at his competitors in saying, "Clearly, Blaze Pizza is leading the development of this new fast casual category." Boom! Pow! Aaaaagh!
In addition, Blaze, which was started by the husband and wife founder of Wetzel's Pretzel's and includes Maria Shriver as an investor, has seven separate franchise factions suddenly spreading a warpath across our very nation, with plans for new stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin.
If we had to predict how this fight will pan out, it pays to closely consider the combatants. Adam Fleischman, who founded 800 Degrees with chef-partner Anthony Carron, tends to be calculating and deliberate, taking his steps carefully each time he expands his burger empire, ensuring his battle plan remains intact and his defenses stay sound. Each Umami location carries its own distinct character and dedicated dishes. True to that approach, 800 Degree's second location, currently under construction, is already being designed as a formidable showpiece in Santa Monica, patiently planned to improve on the original's limitations. Franchise is an unlikely part of 800 Degrees' future and the principals are likely to keep close oversight of all expansion and quality.
Meanwhile, we probably don't need to say much more than "Wetzel's Pretzels" to help you size up the other side. These battle-scarred mujaheddin-of-mealtime have little trepidation about stepping into the fray, slashing and burning their way across the country. They know how secure supply lines and keep the machine financially fueled while invading super-malls, establishing multiple theaters of operation, and proliferating defense points in its quest for dead presidents.
In the end, 800 Degrees may have the big guns. But Blaze will probably get the numbers.