May 22, 2017

Kelly McWilliams of Taylor who sponsored the gala; Jim Bitticks, EVP of operations and training at Blaze Pizza; Juan Lopez, director of training at Blaze Pizza and Cherryh Cansler, director of editorial of Networld Media Group, pose at the gala.

Blaze Pizza is on a hot streak. The 5-year-old Pasadena, California-based brand has grown from two units doing $3 million into 175 locations reporting $185 million in system-wide sales. It opened 70 units in 2016, is on target to open 80 by the end of the year, and CEO and President Jim Mizes expects to exceed $292 million by the end of the year and to surpass the $1 billion-dollar mark in five years.

And that's just a few reasons Blaze earned the top spot on this year's list of Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers, said Cherryh Cansler, editor of FastCasual, who revealed the list Sunday night at a gala honoring the winners at the Sofitel Hotel in Chicago.

"The judges were also impressed when it came to Blaze's menu, sustainability, marketing and technology innovation," she said.

The brand, for example, launched a mobile app in 2016, featuring online ordering, mobile pay and loyalty rewards and signed a multi-year endorsement deal with NBA All-Star LeBron James. Other achievements include:

  • The addition of "brand-building" locations at Walt Disney World in Florida, Universal Studios in Hollywood and Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the NBA'a Lakers and Clippers and the NHL's Kings.
  • The addition of Aguas Frescas, dessert items and new salads.
  • The removal of artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup from all ingredients for pizzas and salads.
  • Using a plant-based straw so that all packaging is now 100 percent eco-friendly (recyclable, compostable or made from post-consumer content).

The annual Fast Casual Top 100 list honors the brands leading the industry in growth and innovation, Cansler said.

"Judges sifted through hundreds and hundreds of nominations to whittle down the list, which is never easy," she said. "Each winner was clearly differentiated from the other competitors but shared a few similarities."

For example, most invested heavily in employee training, sourced high-quality ingredients, embraced technology upgrades, strived to live their brand culture and demonstrated a passion for giving back to their communities.

"Our list specifically recognizes brands and leaders for their contributions to the fast casual segment of the restaurant industry, but when it comes to creativity, progressiveness and sheer grit, these are leading the restaurant industry as a whole," Cansler said.

Rounding out this year's top five were:

  • Luna Grill
  • BurgerFi
  • Slapfish
  • Eatsa
  • Blaze

Click here to read the entire Top 100 report.


Topics: Top 100

Companies: Taylor Company, Oracle, Dovetail Systems Inc., Fuzic Media, Dinova, Litehouse Foods, LevelUp, Happy Chef Uniforms, HotSchedules, Simmons Prepared Foods, Soundtrack Your Brand Sweden AB


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