Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza, a pioneer in the assembly-line artisan pizza category, announced that it has begun to accept franchise applications in key markets across the U.S.

The company plans to build a footprint of stores across California and select U.S. cities through a combination of both company-owned and franchise locations.

Blaze Pizza's first location, a 2,600-square-foot, 90-seat space in Irvine, California, opened last month to enthusiastic reviews and is experiencing long lines at both lunch and dinner. 

The company's second restaurant, a 2,800-square-foot, 100-seat flagship location in Pasadena, California, is set to open in the city's vibrant Theater District next month. Plans for a third location on Los Angeles' West Side are underway.

A creation of Elise and Rick Wetzel, founder of Wetzel's Pretzels, and featuring the talents of executive chef Bradford Kent (owner of L.A.'s top-rated Olio Pizzeria and Cafe), Blaze Pizza is backed by a number of well-known investors, including Maria Shriver, movie producer John Davis, and Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner.

Initial western markets now available for franchising include Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Denver.

In addition, the company is now accepting applications for multiunit franchise candidates in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, Houston, and Dallas.

"We've received a tremendous amount of interest in the concept and are pleased to be able to now move forward strategically with franchise expansion," says company President Elise Wetzel. "Our plan is to selectively identify those franchise candidates who we are confident can execute successfully in this category and work together to develop Blaze into a national brand."

The company is primarily focusing on centers that service both lunch/daytime traffice (office workers, hospitals, lifestyle, and transportation) and dinner/nighttime traffice (residential and entertainment).

It primarily prefers to have co-tenancy with similar contemporary fast-casual brands. Ideal restaurant size is 1,800-2,800 square feet. A smaller footprint design is also available for mall food courts.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Growth, News, Pizza, Blaze Pizza