Blaze Pizza, a pioneer in the fast-casual artisan pizza category, announced that Sajha, LLC has signed an agreement to develop three franchise stores in Southern California.

Sajha, led by CEO Sandeep Bhakta, along with Kamal Patel, will open three Blaze Pizza locations in the Los Angeles area, the first of which is slated to launch in spring 2013.

As the first Blaze Pizza franchisees, Sajha's executives have more than 12 years of quick-service experience operating successful nationwide franchises. Concepts within Sajha's portfolio include Cold Stone Creamery and Which Wich Sandwiches.

"Our team is very excited about the company's depth of experience and the quality of their execution," Bhakta says. "In addition to crafting great-tasting pizzas, we are very impressed with the operational program, which is being developed by industry veterans from numerous successful franchise concepts."

At the heart of Blaze Pizza's operational strength are executives with decades of successful quick-service restaurant experience. Blaze Pizza's executive team has overseen the growth of concepts, including Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle, and Wetzel's Pretzels, which has more than 275 locations now open in the U.S. and abroad.

The company plans to grow its corporate footprint to a total of 15 stores by the end of 2013 and is registered to franchise in 34 states.

Blaze Pizza plans to bring franchises to markets across the country, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Miami, Denver, and Boston. Well-known investors in the company include Maria Shriver, movie producer John Davis, and Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner.

Blaze Pizza uses an assembly-line format that lets guests customize a signature pizza or create on of their own, choosing from a wide selection of fresh, artisanal toppings, most at no extra charge.

Each 11-inch pizza is then "fast-fire'd" in a blazing-hot, open-hearth oven and is ready in less than two minutes. Blaze Pizza makes its own dough from scratch using a recipe created by executive chef Bradford Kent of Olio Pizzeria and Cafe, who developed the dough and recipes exclusively for the company.

Blaze Pizza offers gluten-free dough and vegan cheese to accommodate pizza fans with specific dietary needs, as well. The restaurant's menu also features signature salads, lemonades, beer and wine, and house-made S'mores Pies for dessert.

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