Blaze Pizza has industrialized the pizzeria and Henry Ford would be proud.
The chain started in 2012, and now two years later, it’s expanded to more than 50 locations. They hit prime real estate this month, with the first of seven central Ohio locations opening across from the Ohio Union on High Street.
The franchise gave away free pizzas (normally $6.75) on the first day to anyone willing to “like” one of Blaze Pizza’s social media accounts.
The publicity stunt was a boom, with lines on High Streets akin to those for a big-name group at the Newport.
I made a point to stop in twice over the weekend to see if High Street’s newest addition is worth its own hype.
And it is indeed one hell of an operation. In the back, there’s a giant dough-making process shrouded in mystery that preps the dough for 24 hours before punching out eerily perfect-sized lumps. Then they’re brought up to the line where an employee stamps each one with a big factory-like stampy machine.
Then it’s passed down the line where a half dozen employees will put on different sauces, meats, cheeses and vegetables to your demand.
Maybe the employees are just nervous in the first few days, but they were laying on the customer service act pretty thick. It was like they were pretending to form a personal bond to me and my pizza. Cleverly, your name is written down at the beginning of the line and you advance on down to these questions: “Dan, what kind of cheese can I get you?” “Do you like a lot of spinach, Dan, or just a little bit?” “How does that pepperoni look to you, Dan?” “I can throw some pesto on, no problem, Dan Marino.”
Look, Blaze Pizza, you don’t need to be a needy girlfriend trying to impress me. You’re already impressive on your own merits.
I do think this level of perkiness can be a turnoff to many people, especially millennials, and the franchise would be wise to tone it down a bit. That will likely happen naturally once poor wages and work environment causes their employees to resent the system as much as Chipotle employees do.
To the customer, though, Blaze Pizza is gold, because let’s face it: it’s Chipotle for pizza and that’s a brilliant thing.
Every entrepreneur everywhere is kicking themself and thinking, “why didn’t I think of that?”
Blaze has got the formula right, but most importantly: How does it taste?
It’s really good. The hot oven (which gets up to 900 degrees) makes for that crispy crust that good Italian restaurants have, but not the kind that has a lot of popularity in the Midwest.
This can be a bad thing or a good thing. On one hand, Blaze is filling a market gap. Yet there’s another problem: People can be kind of particular about what kind of pizza they like. People have their favorites, and Blaze Pizza is competing against every pizzeria as much as it is with Chipotle, Piada and Subway.
And for a brilliant as this place is, the pizza isn’t perfect. They tend to skimp on ingredients, especially cheese, which could be a major deterrent to some.
This is not the kind of place you come to get a meatlover’s.
It’s obvious they enforce some “ingredient quotas” in the way some Subways do. I think they skimp too much on cheese but I can accept that because they have a boatload of other things you can top your pizza with (not Piada levels, but pretty close).
And unfortunately, they can also get the proportions a bit wonky. I asked for pesto and my pizza ended up being 50 percent olive oil. Those issues are ones regular customers will have to learn to navigate with the subtle verbal hints we’ve learned to give at Subway and Chipotle.
Bottom line: If you don’t like Blaze Pizza, you’re probably just really bad at making a pizza because you literally pick everything that goes on it. You just have to be assertive enough to make sure they get the proportions right.
Given that assessment, I am most curious to see how the pizzeria does in the coming weeks and months. It has well executed an ingenious model and now it’s up to whether the Ohio State community is as enamored with that model as I would expect it to be.
Though predicting business success can be tricky, I fully expect Blaze Pizza to be a success, especially considering how it’s proven itself across the nation.
Currenty, Chipotle reigns supreme in the battle for OSU students’ stomachs, and it’s almost a given that the dinner hour will include a line to the door each night.
If there’s a business that can challenge that, I think it’s Blaze Pizza, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two businesses battling over customers for a long time.