Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pizza Train Is on the Way

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pizza Train Is on the Way

Article excerpt

A California-based chain is looking to capture a slice of the North Jersey pizza market, with franchise-owned restaurants expected to open on Route 4 in Paramus and in Willowbrook Mall in Wayne this fall.

The restaurants will be the first New Jersey locations of Blaze Pizza, one of more than half a dozen food chains that are betting on a preparation and custom-ordering model that has been called "the Chipotle of pizza" -- a reference to the burrito assembly line used at the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain.

At Blaze and other chains such as Pie Five, MOD Pizza and PizzaRev -- most of them still largely on the West Coast -- customers order pizzas at a counter, and employees add sauces and toppings to a crust as it is passed along the line. The pies are then baked in a super-hot oven for two to three minutes, giving the customer a fast, custom, full-size pie.

So many companies are adopting the "Chipotle of pizza" concept that Chipotle itself announced in December it was investing in one of the chains: Colorado-based Pizzeria Locale.

The operator of the first two Blaze restaurants in New Jersey, Ampal Group of Green Brook, is hoping that being first to market will help it establish a foothold in the state.

"We understood that there was an opportunity growing in that market of fast-casual pizza, and we looked hard for a company that could make it happen. We think Blaze is a fantastic brand and it's poised to take over the pizza market," said Robert Corde, director of operations for Ampal Group, whose other franchise operations in New Jersey and the Maryland-Northern Virginia region include Buffalo Wild Wings and BurgerFi.

Ampal Group has the rights to open 10 Blaze locations in New Jersey and 10 in Maryland-Northern Virginia.

The Paramus location, at the 35 Plaza shopping center on Route 4, is expected to open first, by early October. Blaze is taking over a 2,646-square-foot space formerly occupied by Bucu, a burger and cupcake restaurant. Paul Casson, chief operating officer of A.H. Sauer & Associates, which owns the shopping center, said the Blaze concept "is something that has legs" and that the restaurant will complement the center's other food tenants, which include a Chipotle. …

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