Blazin’ hot
Fast casual pizza restaurant finds success in Brookfield

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

April 22, 2014

 Julie Evans, right, makes a Link In pizza as Colin Leedale prepares the oven area Monday
at Blaze Pizza in Brookfield.

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

BROOKFIELD - Reaching temperatures of 700 to 800 degrees in the oven’s dome, thin-crust pizzas at Blaze Pizza are cooked in 180 seconds or less.

Not only are customers able to watch their pizzas grow golden brown inside the oven, they can also select from an array of vegetables, meats, sauces and cheeses for toppings. The one-and-a-half-year-old restaurant chain is part of the fastest growing category of the food industry - fast casual dining.

John Walch purchased the franchising rights for Blaze Pizza for Wisconsin and opened the location in Brookfield last November. He has the rights to open five others in the state and is planning to focus on the metro Milwaukee and Madison areas.

 Julie Evans makes a Link In pizza Monday at Blaze Pizza in Brookfield.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff


Steam rises from pizzas being baked in the ovens at Blaze Pizza in Brookfield.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

A second location in the metro Milwaukee area is in the works, Walch said, but couldn’t be more specific about the location. He said he hopes to open it by fall.

Prior to running the Blaze Pizza, Walch owned 25 Panera locations in Wisconsin and Illinois with his business partner, who has since retired. After the Panera locations were sold, Walch began to search for the next big thing in restaurants. He found Blaze Pizza and knew that it would be well received in the area because of its fresh ingredients, uniqueness and fast-casual approach.

“I loved the quality of the product, which is important to me, and no one else is doing it,” Walch said while sitting in the brightly painted restaurant Monday. He grew up with a family-run restaurant in the Mequon-Thiensville area and continues to reside in Ozaukee County.

The Brookfield Blaze Pizza location employs 35 people. When the employees heard a significant number of people wanted green olives as a topping, which the restaurant didn’t carry, they began to stock the ingredient.

 A Link In pizza at Blaze Pizza in Brookfield.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Since opening in November, Blaze Pizza has had to overcome a couple of obstacles, including the harsh winter and educating people about how pizza can be made so quickly.

“I think people like the ability to control what they want,” Walch said.

The work environment at Blaze Pizza is focused on having fun making pizzas and offering good customer service, Walch said. Once people begin to build their pizzas, they start having fun, said restaurant General Manager Gary Snyder.

“They are artistic,” Snyder said of customers designing their own pizzas. “They know what they want to do and they do it.”

 A Green Stripe pizza sits in the foreground as Colin Leedale works with other pizzas
in the oven at Blaze Pizza in Brookfield.

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

It’s enjoyable making the customers happy, Snyder said.

Blaze Pizza also offers fundraising opportunities for local organizations. Twenty percent of sales can be donated during a selected time to an organization or group.

 

At a glance

What: Blaze Pizza
Where: The Brownstones, 17500 W. Bluemound Road, Brookfield
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
Info: http://blazepizza.com