Maria Shriver has gone from former First Lady of California to pizza owner.
Shriver, a former journalist and the estranged wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is among a group of elite investors in Blaze Pizza, a U.S. chain of build-your-own pies. Other investors include Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner; film and TV producer John Davis; Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng, and Shriver's son, Patrick Schwarzenegger.
"We love pizza," Shriver told Bloomberg News. "My son and I are really excited to be in the pizza business."
Blaze was started by Rick and Elise Wetzel, the founders of Wetzel's Pretzels, who opened two locations in Irvine and Pasadena, Calif. in 2012. Customers can create their own 11-inch pizza masterpieces, topping them with everything from bacon or Italian sausage to sautéed onion (gluten-free dough and vegan cheese are options). Thanks to newfangled 800-degree ovens, the pizzas, which cost $6.85 each, take just two minutes to cook. "You can't even get to your table before the pie is ready," Wetzel, 54, told ABC News.
On Feb. 27, Blaze announced an agreement with Lessing's Hospitality Group to open ten stores in the New York metro area and Connecticut. John Walch, who started 25 Panera Bread franchises, plans to open six locations in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.
"It's a big idea and it wants to go fast, and the best idea to go fast is with franchising," said Wetzel.
According to Pete Lachapelle, founding member of the National Restaurant Association's Pizzeria Council and the president and publisher of Pizza Today magazine, pizza is a $43 billion dollar industry, with about 70,000 independent and chain pizzerias in the US.
"Personally, I prefer your stereotypical old school pizzerias, where you walk in and tell them what you want, but this certainly that has its place," he said of the assembly line concept. "It's a quick, easy way to buy a whole pizza at lunchtime as opposed to a slice."
And, he added , it might inspire people to eat healthier pies. "Because everything is custom made, if you want your own veggie pizza you can build your own."
In a telephone interview with ABC News, Davis, a film producer and investor in Wetzel's Pretzels who also rounded up the investors for Blaze, said the DIY model is keeping pace with changes in technology. "My kids don't watch TV on the TV; they do it on the computer, so they can watch what they want," he said. "This is an extension of that. People are getting exactly what they want, and in two minutes."
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