Jim Cramer always has his eye out for the next big idea, especially privately-held companies making big waves in their industry. His attention recently turned to Blaze Pizza, backed by basketball superstar LeBron James.
In 2015, James decided not to renew his deal with McDonald's and instead endorsed Blaze Pizza. In an interview on "Mad Money," Blaze's Chief Operating Officer Jim Mizes chronicled the evolution of James's involvement with the company from investor to spokesperson and now a franchisee partnered with Larry Levy.
"He saw what Blaze Pizza and what this category could be, so he started as an investor, and then became a franchisee … And then he was so into Blaze that he came all in," Mizes said.
Blaze was the fastest growing restaurant chain in 2015, as it exploded from 50 locations in 2014 to its current 150 locations. It plans to expand nationwide to 350 locations by 2020.
Elise and Rick Wetzel founded the company in 2012. They tried to find a quality pizza place in their area, and found only sit-down options or low-quality take-out. After deciding to eat at Chipotle instead, they decided to venture into the $40 billion pizza industry with a do-it-yourself model featuring high-quality customized ingredients.
"This is a chance to co-create as you go down the line, and create your masterpiece," Mizes said.
Mizes called the restaurant not just food but an experience. Its executive chef sampled more than 30 different salts just to decide which one to use in the dough. Its growing scale also gave Blaze the ability to work with manufacturers and ensure all-natural ingredients with no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or additives.
"We've had tremendous luck investing in pizza companies because it's a loved food all over the world," Cramer said.
Moving forward, Blaze anticipates it will go public, but does not expect that for a few years.
"We really believe … that we have the ability to be a $1 billion brand. So, we've got some time," Mizes said.