Houston is the latest battleground in a high-stakes, nationwide quest that seeks to answer the question: Who will be the Chipotle of pizza?
The city is already home to locations of Pie Five Pizza and Mod Pizza, which both offer diners the opportunity to pick their own crust, sauce and toppings and then watch as a pizza is baked right in front of them in mere minutes.
In July, another contender will join their ranks when California-based Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza opens its first Houston location in the Woodlake Square shopping center at the corner of Gessner and Westheimer. The company will also open a location in Sugar Land's Town Center in August, Austin in November and Fort Worth next year.
Blaze touts its "fresh, artisanal ingredients" and "generously-sized 11-inch pizzas" that only cost about $8 regardless of toppings as major parts of its appeal, but the brand has some celebrity heat, too. Pretzel royalty Elise and Rick Wetzel founded the company, and it counts people like basketball superstar LeBron James and actress Maria Shriver as investors.
"Our mission at Blaze is really simple – we’re all about bringing the community a place where guests can connect, create and enjoy great pizza at crazy fast speed,” said president and COO Jim Mizes, in a statement. “If you think about it, there hasn’t been a good way to enjoy a great artisanal pizza without the wait. Now there is. We believe this will be a game changer in town."
Of course, as Houstonia's Katharine Shilcutt recently pointed out, most pizza places offer patrons a choice of toppings and quick bake times. Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana, arguably Houston's best Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant, bakes its pies in only 90 seconds in a 900 degree oven. Blaze takes twice as long. That's only three minutes, but still, the point stands that the newcomers don't have a monopoly on short bake times.
On the other hand, Pizaro's pizzas cost about $15, and the thin crust means each one is a single-serving for many people. As always, whether diners choose Blaze and its national competitors or local options will depend on price, quality and service. Speed probably won't be much of a factor.