Blaze Pizza Opens First Tampa Bay Restaurant in University Park

Jan 29, 2015


UNIVERSITY PARK, FL -- It's earned the moniker "the Chipotle of pizzas."

Blaze uses an open-flame stone oven that bakes 11-inch pies in 180 seconds. But for fast food, there's a refined feel.

Customers shuffle their way through a line picking out either a signature pizza for $8 or build their own with as many toppings as they want. At the end, the pies go into the oven and bake for three minutes until they're ready.

"You make the pizza how you like it," said Dennis Sherer, managing partner of franchise group Millennial Restaurant Group, based in Louisville, Ky. "Everybody likes different things on their pizza and that's the beauty of this. They can go down the line and look at the quality ingredients we have and make it the way they want it."

Blaze Pizza, 215 N. Cattlemen Road, opens Thursday and is open from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.

On Friday, every customer who walks through the door will receive a free pizza. They are encouraged to post on social media about Blaze Pizza to get the free pie, Sherer said. At the franchise group's last opening in Gainesville the restaurant gave away 1,300 pizzas.

Sherer, an Orlando resident, is a managing partner with Millennial Restaurant Group led by Wayne Albritton, a Panamanian living in Louisville, Ky. The franchise group is focusing on expansion after making the Sarasota County location its fourth. It is looking at 30 locations in Florida and adding restaurants in Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

"We want to be where everyone wants to go and this is it," said Sherer, who previously was employed by Fazoli's for 19 years, most recently as a director of operations.

Among the franchise group's partners is retired NBA star Junior Bridgeman who played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers in the 1980s. Bridgeman's post-NBA career led him to being a major franchisee for Wendy's restaurants. NBA stars seem to love the chain as LeBron James is a managing partner for South Florida Blaze Pizza restaurants.

In addition to pizza where anything from meat lovers to vegan and gluten-free options are available, the restaurant offers salads, craft beer and wine and s'mores pies also baked in the oven.

The restaurant is similar to Rise Pies, which opened in the Mall at University Town Center in October. Both have the assembly line concept with pies baked in about three minutes and have ties to pretzel empires (Rise with Auntie Anne's and Blaze with Wetzel's Pretzels.)

While Rise opened locally before Blaze, Rise opened its first restaurant last summer whereas Blaze has been around for two years, founded by Rick and Elise Wetzel of Wetzel's Pretzels. The Wetzels stopped at a Chipotle one day where they realized a pizza restaurant would be a great idea with the Chipotle feel, said Rachel Bledsoe, Blaze Pizza spokeswoman.

"It's like the quality of a sit-down restaurant but at the speed of a fast food restaurant," she said.

They teamed up with a Zagat-rated executive chef in California, Bradford Kent, to develop recipes and a dough that requires a 24-hour fermentation period to produce a light, crispy crust. Kent earned the nickname "The Pizza Whisperer" for his work. The biggest difference between the competing chains is that Blaze doesn't charge extra for toppings and has online ordering at

With online ordering, the pizza isn't made until the customer arrives, Sherer said.

"If you're delayed by traffic or didn't get off work on time, we're going to wait until you get here and fire it up," he said. "It just takes us three minutes to get your pizza completed in our oven."

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