Christian Kuhn crossed paths with Beto Guajardo a couple of times in their Focus Brands (now GoTo Foods) days, when he headed up loyalty across seven brands and Guajardo led the international arm of the multi-concept operator’s business. So there was some familiarity when the phone rang. Guajardo, who had been named CEO of Blaze Pizza in January, asked Kuhn to chat with Brentwood Associates, the firm that backed the fast-casual brand in 2017 and took a “significant” non-controlling investment in October 2020.

Brentwood and Guajardo shared a similar pitch: Blaze had gone stagnant.

The 296-unit brand expanded by four stores from 2020 to 2021 before retracting by 10 the following year and seven in 2023. Blaze, founded by Rick and Elise Wetzel, reached 300 locations about six years after launch (hence the “stagnation”) and stood at the gates of a fast-casual pizza revolution that paraded through the decade, gobbling up in-line real estate once ignored by quick-service brands. Hitting 200 stores in five years earned the brand Technomic’s designation as the “fastest-growing restaurant chain ever.”

A LOOK BACK: How Blaze Ignited a Pizza Revolution

And beyond the growth corner of Blaze’s history, the chain pushed average-unit volumes of about $1.4 million those days, or more than all six of the biggest national pizza chains. A 2018 Harris EquiTrend study of 77,000 U.S. consumers labeled Blaze “America’s Favorite Pizza Chain.”

Clearly, the dine-in centric, Chipotle-style assembly-line spin on the category resonated. It spawned competitors from all sides, like MOD Pizza, &pizza, Pieology, and countless others. Then, COVID crashed and those same differentiators—such as a focus on individual meal occasions—turned into drags. Fissures emerged from some lagging points, like technology, asset evolution, and menu development fit for off-premises occasions.

Blaze, for one, hadn’t launched a new product in 10 years. That changed Monday as the brand unveiled what Guajardo calls “the biggest transformation that this company has ever gone through.”

From zero rollouts in a decade to 14 new items.

Kuhn, who before GoTo Foods spent nine years at Hilton (Inspire Brands CEO Paul Brown gave Kuhn his first VP role), said yes to Guajardo and Brentwood’s offer and clocked in about four months ago.

They had one additional request for Kuhn. “The key is just go fast,” he says. “I said, ‘I can do that.’”

Kuhn and Guajardo were handed the keys to Blaze and given reign to go “refire” the company, as the executives have taken to saying. Although there’s more to come from a marketing and logistical angle, namely on the foundational, franchise side, it was an effort that started with giving Blaze something to talk about again, Guajardo says. “As others are stepping back, what are we doing?” he asked a crowd of franchisees and media last week at Blaze’s Disney Springs, Florida, location. “We are stepping forward and we are saying with a louder voice, ‘we are here. We have meaning. We have purpose.’ And we are going to reinvent and ‘refire’ ourselves to deliver a better experience with more exciting food and a bigger, broader menu. And something everyone is going to want to be a part of.”

Wayne Albritton, owner of Millennial Restaurant Group and a Blaze franchisee who joined the system when it had two stores (he had Wendy’s holdings previously), says the 14-menu revamp was more of an upgrade than a flood of fresh SKUs. These were items and techniques Blaze could execute against already. “It’s really about picking it up a level,” he says. “… We’re talking about flavors. We’re talking about desserts. We’re just talking about getting some updated flavor profiles. We want to give [guests] another reason to come back to Blaze Pizza.”

The new menu is going to arrive throughout 2024. It began with five new pizzas as part of Blaze’s Signature Pizza line called the “Chef Inspired and Fast Fire’d Signature Collection.” This replaced Blaze’s “Signature Pizza” lineup, which had been around 12 years.

Essentially, Guajardo says, there was runway to give guests some curated options that amplified the best of what Blaze was capable of, loaded with toppings. Also, Kuhn adds, the chain wanted to stress the fact it makes dough in-house, every day, and leverage that differentiator across new categories.

Blaze’s new menu lineup ranges from spicy options to dessert, and everywhere in between.

Here’s the full lineup of what’s ahead, starting with the five new pizzas:


Mix of pepperoni slices, julienned ham, and crumbled meatballs. The toppings are paired with Blaze’s house made tomato-based sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and finished with a Balsamic drizzle.

Meatball Pie

Crumbled meatballs accompanied by the chain’s classic house-made tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, and ricotta cheese.

Blazed BBQ

The new Blazed BBQ Chicken pizza recipe features a base of tangy BBQ sauce, creamy mozzarella cheese, pieces of grilled chicken along with red onions and pickled jalapeno peppers.

Four Cheese

After a base of house-made red sauce, Blaze marries four cheeses onto one pizza—shredded mozzarella, fresh Ovalini mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan sprinkles, and finished with a swirl of olive oil.


This option starts off with spicy red sauce topped with generous portions of shredded mozzarella, mushrooms, roasted garlic, tomatoes, banana peppers plus a finish of fresh arugula and a swirl of olive oil.

“Blaze Pizza has always been the cornerstone of be creative, build-your-own pizza,” Guajardo explains. “But one of the things that I watched as I saw customers come in is, even myself—I’ll have an original with some red sauce and give me some mozzarella cheese and pepperoni. And my chef was like, ‘you think that was a great pizza?’ I was like, ‘for me it is.” He’d grab a pizza, put some things together. And he’d say, ‘have you ever tried mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmesan?’ I’d be like, I don’t even know what that means. And then you taste it and you’re like ‘boom.’ That’s what great flavor is.”

“So I want to give people a chance to have an experience with exploring a menu that has great flavor, great value,” he adds. “To make you want to come back and say, what am I going to try today? I don’t want to sit here and think too hard about it. What am I going to try today off the menu?”

Returning to Kuhn’s point about dough, Blaze has 12 corporate stores mixed into its nearly 300-or-so fleet. He’s been using those as a sandbox. One example was Blaze’s upcoming Cinnamon Bread dessert, slated for July. Kuhn says they put dough with cinnamon in the pizza oven and observed what happened. The result was a product where the cinnamon dusted off and the pizza cooked afterward tasted like dessert. So they added butter. The end result was a house-made stretched bread with cinnamon sugar and a drizzle of royal white icing. Kush says it not only broadens Blaze’s menu and offers a dessert option to drive check, but it’s also flexible to seasonal and continual evolution. Imagine a pumpkin spiced version in the fall.

Next up will be Blaze’s Spicy & Sweet Collection, scheduled for August. The inspiration came from one of Blaze’s hallmarks—guests asking for a drizzle finish after pizza comes out of the 800-degree oven. Kuhn says he examined trends and, like the dessert, will create optionality to keep layering in new news over time.

Hot Chili Oil drizzle

Blaze’s spicy heat blend consists of olive oil infused with Calabrian Chilis.

Sweet Hot Honey drizzle

The spicy sweet blend combines 100 percent pure honey with red chili peppers and vinegar.

Blaze’s spicy duo will be showcased on two of its most popular menu items, complemented with customer’s choice of spicy drizzle.

Spicy Pepperoni Pizza

One of Blaze’s most-popular legacy items will now be topped with double the pepperoni, garlic, jalapenos, and a choice of spicy drizzle.

Spicy Cheesy Bread

Blaze took its most-requested side and offered the chance to add a choice of spicy drizzle.

Additionally, it’s going to introduced two more menu items within this Spicy & Sweet architecture:

Spicy Pepperoni Fast Fire’d Fold

Thew new Blaze Fast-Fire’d FOLDS are based on the concepts of Italian calzones and strombolis. The first flavor introduced nationally is the Spicy Pepperoni Fold, which uses the same house-made fresh dough that is the base for pizzas. The dough envelops a mix of mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, oregano, a triple portion of pepperoni and the choice of either spicy heat or spicy sweet drizzles. It is served it with two side cups of house-made savory red sauce.

To note, the Folds tie into Blaze’s growing partnership with Folds of Honor. In August, the company will launch a round-up program across its full menu that allows customers to donate to the organization, which offers scholarships to spouses and children of fallen or disabled military and first responders.

Spicy Fast Fire’d Meatballs

Earlier this year, Blaze Pizza started serving up the new entree and side. Now, it’s going to offer a spicy version in an entree bowl that includes three pork/beef blend meatballs braised in home-made red sauce, and Italian ricotta cheese, topped with spicy pickled jalapeno peppers. The meatballs are also available as Take-Two portion as a smaller, side dish with two meatballs that can be combined with any half-pizza, salad or Cheesy Bread.

The dough differentiation is extending into salads, too.

Pizza Shop Chop Salad

Chopped romaine lettuce, sliced mushrooms, red onion, banana peppers and black olives, and shredded cheese.

Grapes, Gorgonzola & Green Salad

Launching in the Fall, this salad will be a mix of arcadian greens, sliced red and green peppers, red onion, gorgonzola blue cheese, and topped with a zesty Balsamic vinaigrette.

Blaze created two new dressings to accompany the launch.

Blaze Goddess Dressing

The spin on Green Goddess combines ranch dressing with fresh pesto.

Blaze Fig Balsamic Dressing

This combines fig balsamic glaze with extra virgin olive oil, infused with notes of garlic, oregano, and basil.

Regarding the broader aim at hand, Kuhn believes Blaze has visible opportunity. Despite closing seven units last year, the chain’s average-unit volumes were $1.320 million, which was a pretty steady year-over-year hold ($1.321 million in 2022) as the brand began to plot big changes. Mall storefront franchises came in at $1.231 million, up from $1.215 million. That latter category defined just 14 locations, while the former traditional franchise bucket comprised 251.

General corporate restaurants last year, of which there were 10, boasted AUVs of $1.737 million (down from $1.886 million) and storefronts—there were two of these—were $2.1231 million versus $2.017 million from the prior year.

A look at some competitors:

  • Domino’s: $1.317 million
  • Papa Johns: $1.231 million
  • Donatos: $1.216 million
  • Pizza Guys: $1.065 million
  • Pizza Hut: $1.015 million
  • Marco’s Pizza: $943,000
  • Hungry Howie’s: $894,000
  • Little Caesars (QSR 50 estimate): $798,000
  • Sbarro: $701,000
  • Papa Murphy’s: $667,000

The fast-casual pizza arena’s largest player, MOD Pizza at 527 stores, announced in Q1 it closed 26 units. Pieology retracted by 10 in 2023 to exit the year with 109 restaurants.

Kuhn says Blaze is in “good shape” and doesn’t see tangible closures on the horizon. According to its FDD, 10 franchised outlets are projected for fiscal 2024, and nine agreements have been signed without stores opening yet.

“This is a brand that needs help,” Kuhn recalls of the early talks when he started. “But it has a really good opportunity right now because the industry is struggling. We are in OK shape. So this is our chance.”

Kuhn is also championing a “Trail Blazing Pie-oneers Program” that will recognize all sorts of people making a difference. The first was Folds of Honor CEO Lt. Col. Dan Rooney. The second was Albritton, who Kuhn spoke about at the Disney Springs event for his Flames of Support program that gives employees a chance to donate to a fund that’s used by coworkers in need. Blaze donated $10,000 to each.

These wide-ranging changes join Blaze’s early June announcement it plans to move headquarters from Pasadena, California, to Atlanta by early September. The majority of the company’s 60 or so corporate employees will remain remote, with some SoCal-based workers being offered relocation opportunities.

Fast Food, Menu Innovations, Pizza, Story, Blaze Pizza