Los Angeles Business Journal

Hot-Oven Pizza to Grow by Degrees

Dining: Local chains plan to hit road to vie for bigger piece of pie. By Bethany Firnhaber Monday, August 19, 2013

Just two years ago, assembly line pizzerias selling made-to-order pizzas didn’t exist in Los Angeles. Since then – thanks to a realization that super-hot ovens can cook pizzas in as little as 60 seconds – four local restaurant companies with similar concepts have opened shop. Suddenly, competition is super-hot, too.

Each of the companies – 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, PizzaRev and Pizza Studio – has mapped out national expansion plans. As they begin to act on those plans, their oven mitts are up, ready to fight for their piece of the pie. With food industry heavyweights backing each of them, the fight may be intense.

Earlier this month, Calabasas chain Pizza Studio – the youngest and smallest of the four with only one open restaurant – announced that it signed a deal with San Jose franchisee Studio 37 LLC to open 25 pizzerias in the San Francisco metro area. The deal is only the latest for the fledgling chain, which said it has contracts for 74 restaurants and expects to have as many as 76 more signed before the end of the year.

Partners Samit Varma and Ron Biskin co-founded and now run Pizza Studio, which they envision expanding into thousands of restaurants across the country.

“We want to be the next Chipotle,” Varma said.

But they’re not the only ones. Both Blaze in Pasadena and PizzaRev in Westlake Village have similarly aggressive goals for their chains.

Wetzel’s Pretzels owners Rick and Elise Wetzel, who co-founded Blaze, have opened three pizzerias thus far and say they have several multi-unit franchisees set to open an additional 17 in the next year.

Former entertainment industry executives Irv Zuckerman and Rodney Eckerman, co-founders of PizzaRev, have so far opened five pizzerias, and last week announced their intentions to franchise in all 50 states.

800 Degrees, co-founded by chef Anthony Carron and Umami Restaurant Group duo Adam Fleischman and Allen Ravert, has slower, more deliberate plans for national dominance, which Carron said don’t include franchising the concept.

“I want to control the quality and the process,” he said. “Those other guys may make a lot of money selling franchises – good for them – but I’m here to operate restaurants and make great pizza.”

Pizza chain 800 Degrees has one restaurant in Westwood, will open a second next month at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport and a third in Santa Monica in December. A couple more – in Las Vegas and likely in Old Pasadena and Studio City, too – will open in the next year. But Carron said he doesn’t see the chain ever growing as much as its local competitors.

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