Strategy We tried Blaze Pizza, the fast-growing chain that persuaded LeBron James to end a $14 million deal with McDonald's — and it's incredible

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LeBron James left $14 million on the table to endorse Blaze Pizza. Once you taste it, you'll understand why.

Blaze Pizza is on fire. play

Blaze Pizza is on fire.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)
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The build-your-own pizza chain Blaze Pizza is fit for a king — King LeBron James, that is.

In 2015, the basketball legend walked away from a $14 million endorsement deal with McDonald's to become part of Blaze Pizza's marketing campaigns. He's also an early investor in the Chipotle-style pizza chain.

James' selection of an unknown upstart over an established brand appears to have paid off. Blaze was recently named the fastest-growing chain in history after opening its 200th location in Mentor, Ohio, on Tuesday. Revenue is on track to hit $300 million in 2017, according to a company representative.

We visited Blaze in Fremont, California, to see whether the pizza could meet the hype.

On a weekday night, I stopped by Blaze Pizza's sunny Fremont, California, location.

On a weekday night, I stopped by Blaze Pizza's sunny Fremont, California, location. play

On a weekday night, I stopped by Blaze Pizza's sunny Fremont, California, location.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The chain's blend of industrial design pieces and reclaimed wood was influenced by fast-casual competitor Chipotle, according to Blaze Pizza CEO and president Jim Mizes.

The chain's blend of industrial design pieces and reclaimed wood was influenced by fast-casual competitor Chipotle, according to Blaze Pizza CEO and president Jim Mizes. play

The chain's blend of industrial design pieces and reclaimed wood was influenced by fast-casual competitor Chipotle, according to Blaze Pizza CEO and president Jim Mizes.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Executive chef and cofounder Bradford Kent greeted us at the door. Blaze Pizza's founders enlisted the help of the so-called "Pizza Whisperer" at the start.

Executive chef and cofounder Bradford Kent greeted us at the door. Blaze Pizza's founders enlisted the help of the so-called "Pizza Whisperer" at the start. play

Executive chef and cofounder Bradford Kent greeted us at the door. Blaze Pizza's founders enlisted the help of the so-called "Pizza Whisperer" at the start.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Chef Brad spent seven years perfecting his pizza dough before launching the Zagat-rated Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles. He joined Blaze Pizza to widen the reach of artisanal pizza.

Chef Brad spent seven years perfecting his pizza dough before launching the Zagat-rated Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles. He joined Blaze Pizza to widen the reach of artisanal pizza. play

Chef Brad spent seven years perfecting his pizza dough before launching the Zagat-rated Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles. He joined Blaze Pizza to widen the reach of artisanal pizza.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


And oh, what a dough! Kent's recipe combines three styles of dough, fermented over 24 hours, that are made throughout the day at every restaurant.

And oh, what a dough! Kent's recipe combines three styles of dough, fermented over 24 hours, that are made throughout the day at every restaurant. play

And oh, what a dough! Kent's recipe combines three styles of dough, fermented over 24 hours, that are made throughout the day at every restaurant.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza uses an assembly-style format that lets guests customize a "signature pizza" from the menu board or create their own.

Like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza uses an assembly-style format that lets guests customize a "signature pizza" from the menu board or create their own. play

Like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza uses an assembly-style format that lets guests customize a "signature pizza" from the menu board or create their own.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


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.

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. play

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.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Chef Brad takes pride in the brand's offerings. "Blaze didn't invent the assembly line," he told us. "They infused it with [the highest-quality] culinary ingredients."

Chef Brad takes pride in the brand's offerings. "Blaze didn't invent the assembly line," he told us. "They infused it with [the highest-quality] culinary ingredients." play

Chef Brad takes pride in the brand's offerings. "Blaze didn't invent the assembly line," he told us. "They infused it with [the highest-quality] culinary ingredients."

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Time for me to order!

Time for me to order! play

Time for me to order!

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


For my first pizza, I opted to build my own. Chef Brad took a slab of dough and placed it on this machine, which flattens and shapes its crust in the metal plate's rim.

For my first pizza, I opted to build my own. Chef Brad took a slab of dough and placed it on this machine, which flattens and shapes its crust in the metal plate's rim. play

For my first pizza, I opted to build my own. Chef Brad took a slab of dough and placed it on this machine, which flattens and shapes its crust in the metal plate's rim.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Seconds later, he lifted the dough off the plate and placed it on a wood peel for transportation down the assembly line.

Seconds later, he lifted the dough off the plate and placed it on a wood peel for transportation down the assembly line. play

Seconds later, he lifted the dough off the plate and placed it on a wood peel for transportation down the assembly line.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


I chose the spicy red sauce, infused with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, cayenne, jalapeño, and California-grown heirloom garlic.

I chose the spicy red sauce, infused with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, cayenne, jalapeño, and California-grown heirloom garlic. play

I chose the spicy red sauce, infused with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, cayenne, jalapeño, and California-grown heirloom garlic.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


When it came time to pick toppings, Chef Brad encouraged me that "less is more." The meatballs, made with all-white turkey meat and portobello mushrooms, had me drooling.

When it came time to pick toppings, Chef Brad encouraged me that "less is more." The meatballs, made with all-white turkey meat and portobello mushrooms, had me drooling. play

When it came time to pick toppings, Chef Brad encouraged me that "less is more." The meatballs, made with all-white turkey meat and portobello mushrooms, had me drooling.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Chef Brad said he tried 80 different mozzarellas before selecting this tender shred for the restaurant chain.

Chef Brad said he tried 80 different mozzarellas before selecting this tender shred for the restaurant chain. play

Chef Brad said he tried 80 different mozzarellas before selecting this tender shred for the restaurant chain.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


To top off my pie, I added Italian sausage, red onions, black olives, chunks of zucchini, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

To top off my pie, I added Italian sausage, red onions, black olives, chunks of zucchini, and a sprinkling of cilantro. play

To top off my pie, I added Italian sausage, red onions, black olives, chunks of zucchini, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Blaze Pizza's thin-crust pies cook in just 180 seconds in this 3-ton oven, outfitted with a stone hearth and open flames on three sides.

Blaze Pizza's thin-crust pies cook in just 180 seconds in this 3-ton oven, outfitted with a stone hearth and open flames on three sides. play

Blaze Pizza's thin-crust pies cook in just 180 seconds in this 3-ton oven, outfitted with a stone hearth and open flames on three sides.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The oven has a BTU range 15 times that of a home oven. "We're talking about a lot of firepower," Chef Brad said. He twirled the pizza several times so it didn't burn on one side.

The oven has a BTU range 15 times that of a home oven. "We're talking about a lot of firepower," Chef Brad said. He twirled the pizza several times so it didn't burn on one side. play

The oven has a BTU range 15 times that of a home oven. "We're talking about a lot of firepower," Chef Brad said. He twirled the pizza several times so it didn't burn on one side.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Voilà! Three minutes later, my individual pizza emerged hot and crispy on the edges. The chef cut it into six slices and boxed it up.

Voilà! Three minutes later, my individual pizza emerged hot and crispy on the edges. The chef cut it into six slices and boxed it up. play

Voilà! Three minutes later, my individual pizza emerged hot and crispy on the edges. The chef cut it into six slices and boxed it up.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


One bite in, I couldn't believe I was eating a fast-casual pizza. Thin, light on the sauce, pliable enough to be folded in half, and wood-fired, it reminded me of pies from my favorite Brooklyn pizzeria, Roberta's.

One bite in, I couldn't believe I was eating a fast-casual pizza. Thin, light on the sauce, pliable enough to be folded in half, and wood-fired, it reminded me of pies from my favorite Brooklyn pizzeria, Roberta's. play

One bite in, I couldn't believe I was eating a fast-casual pizza. Thin, light on the sauce, pliable enough to be folded in half, and wood-fired, it reminded me of pies from my favorite Brooklyn pizzeria, Roberta's.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


That's no coincidence. "New Yorkers make food with grit," Chef Brad said. "It's not because they have the best water. It's because someone back there [in the kitchen] gives a care."

That's no coincidence. "New Yorkers make food with grit," Chef Brad said. "It's not because they have the best water. It's because someone back there [in the kitchen] gives a care." play

That's no coincidence. "New Yorkers make food with grit," Chef Brad said. "It's not because they have the best water. It's because someone back there [in the kitchen] gives a care."

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


I liked it so much I ordered a second pie, The Green Stripe, to bring home. The pesto-sauced pizza was topped with grilled chicken, arugula, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella.

I liked it so much I ordered a second pie, The Green Stripe, to bring home. The pesto-sauced pizza was topped with grilled chicken, arugula, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella. play

I liked it so much I ordered a second pie, The Green Stripe, to bring home. The pesto-sauced pizza was topped with grilled chicken, arugula, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


I expect we'll be hearing lots more from King James' pizza chain.

I expect we'll be hearing lots more from King James' pizza chain. play

I expect we'll be hearing lots more from King James' pizza chain.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)