LeBron James is behind the fastest growing restaurant chain in America

0:37 | eats
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by Elisabeth Sherman

 

With the opening of its 200th restaurant in Ohio on Tuesday, Blaze Pizza cemented its status as fastest growing restaurant chain in America.

The chain, which was founded in 2011 in Southern California, started out with just two locations. But their fast, affordable take on the “build-your-own-pizza” model clearly resonated with customers. In just the past four years, they have gone from operating 2 eateries, to two hundred – the fastest start for a restaurant chain in the U.S., according to a report from Forbes.

LeBron James, apparently a keen businessman, has been on board since Blaze Pizza’s humble beginnings: He invested in the company in 2012 and became a franchisee a year later. The basketball superstar also appeals to his 91 million followers across his social media platforms to endorse the chain. A video of James disguising himself as Blaze employee named Ron went viral last year.

According to Forbes, Blaze Pizza’s sales increased from $6 million in 2013 to $185 million last year. The chain’s CEO Jim Mizes expects to reach a total of $285 million in sales in 2017, hitting $1.1 billion by 2022. One poll put Blaze in second place among America’s favorite pizza joints, just behind Papa John’s, and actually beating out Pizza Hunt, a much more established brand.

James must have faith in Mizes, because he walked away from an $15 million endorsement deal with fast good giant McDonald’s.

"We get to build this. If it doesn't become successful, I can only blame myself,” James said of his partnership with Blaze in an episode of his web-series “Kneading Dough.” He owns around 10% of the company.

Meanwhile, Mize says that his company plans to build 100 to 150 more restaurants in 2018 and beyond, and wants to explore further international expansion as well. Currently, there are locations in 32 states, and Canada. Sounds like this venture ahs been yet another resounding win for the NBA’s biggest star.

This story originally appeared on foodandwine.com.

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