Like art and fashion, the blurring of lines between sports and business is not a new phenomenon.  Sports franchises and the world of business have coexisted for ages and athletes have been dipping their toes in enterprising ventures for decades.  These sports personalities have smartly realized that their lifespan in the public eye is finite and one must make hay while the sun shines.

Basketball phenom and one man wrecking crew Lebron James is no exception. When King James walked away from a $14 million McDonald’s endorsement deal in 2015 most people scratched their heads.  It is true that Lebron was already filthy rich and there was more where that money came from, but who leaves easy money on the table?  King James had a plan – he knew what he was doing.  He had his eye on a fresh restaurant concept and did not want any conflicts of interest that would come with the Micky D’s endorsement.  Lebron was 100% sold on a Chipotle-style pizza chain called Blaze which he marketed for and became a part owner of (Lebron owns a 10% stake).

At the time, it was an unknown startup but today Blaze is blazing a trail and well on its way to opening its 200th location (which will be in Mentor, Ohio). Just as an FYI, Forbes has recently named Blaze the fastest growing chain in history with enterprise revenues on track to hit $200 million in 2017.

Blaze was founded in 2011 by Rick and Elise Wetzel and is based in Pasedena, California.

The Executive chef (and co-founder) of Blaze is Bradford Kent who is renowned as the “Pizza Whisperer”.  It is widely reported that Chef Kent spent seven years perfecting his pizza dough before launching the Zagat-rated Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles. The décor at Blaze features a stylized mixture of industrial artifacts and reclaimed wood. Similar Chipotle,

Blaze restaurants use an assembly line type of format that allows patrons to create a customized pizza or choose a variety of pre-conceptualized pies from a menu board. There are seven cheeses, seven meats, 17 veggies, and 10 sauces to choose from. No matter how many toppings you add, the pizza costs $7.95 and up, depending on location.

The thin-crust pies are ready in three minutes mainly because each Blaze outlet is equipped with a three-ton oven with a stone hearth and open flames.

The whole concept is quite awesome but it does have new age competitors including Pieology and MOD which are also growing like weeds.

Currently, there is news swirling that the owners of Blaze are in talks with a private equity buyout organization to sell a stake of business. The deal is likely to be announced this week and the enterprise value that is floating around is about $100 million. It is safe to say that 32-year-old King James will from now on always opt for pizza over a Big Mac.

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