After launching two build-your-own artisan pizza restaurants last summer in Pasadena and Irvine, Wetzel’s Pretzels co-founders Rick and Elise Wetzel are lighting a flame under expansion plans for their Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza concept.

The duo announced two franchise deals this month to open eight more restaurants for the budding chain in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and that’s just the beginning.

Rick Wetzel said he expects the company to sign up to 20 multi-unit franchise agreements for restaurants in seven different markets – including Los Angeles – before the end of the year.

“Our gut is that this whole assembly line pizza category is going to be pretty large, so we’re making a play to be the dominant brand in the category,” he said.

Torrance-based franchise company Sajha LLC, which also operates Cold Stone Creamery and Which Wich Superior Sandwiches stores, was the first to sign on to open Blaze restaurants. The company will open three of the eight that Blaze franchised beginning this spring.

A second franchise company, Rolling Hills BP LLC in Los Angeles, has committed to open five Blaze locations. The franchise company, created specifically to operate Blaze restaurants, was co-founded by Peter Koral, founder of premium denim brand Seven for All Mankind, and Daniel Driz, whose family operates Mexico-based franchises for Panda Express and Office Depot.

Wetzel said both franchise companies contacted Blaze to open restaurants and that Rolling Hills asked to open more than five locations.

“That’s all we were willing to allow them until they can prove that they’re good operators,” he said.

Driz said his company saw the attention Blaze was getting from franchise candidates and worried that if he didn’t buy in early, he wouldn’t get the chance to buy in at all.

“We believe it’s a smart strategy to get in early to capitalize on the momentum and to have the best selection of franchise territories,” he said in a statement.

The Wetzels had always planned to expand Blaze through franchising, but that doesn’t mean the Wetzels won’t be thoroughly involved.

“We do have a very heavy hand in everything,” Rick Wetzel said. “We’re finding them real estate and they’re buying into it. They’ll be the actual operators of the stores, but we want to run a real tight ship.”

Revolving Doors

Independent specialty coffee shop Alfred Coffee & Kitchen opened last week in a two-story space at 8428 Melrose Place. … Ballet-inspired fitness studio Xtend Barre opened earlier this month at 8254 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood. … Celebrity hairstylist Robert Vetica opened a salon at Ciel Spa inside the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills. … Menswear boutique Sean Store on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica has moved its flagship store to 807 Palm Ave. in West Hollywood. … L.A. fashion boutique Traffic Los Angeles, with one men’s and one women’s store at Beverly Center, will open its second men’s and women’s stores in Dallas next month. … After opening stores in Pasadena and at the Grove last year, women’s fashion retailer and J. Crew Group Inc. subsidiary Madewell Inc. opened a third L.A. store last week on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. … Vernon-based fashion line Equipment opened a second stand-alone boutique, and its first in Los Angeles, last week at 8459 Melrose Place. … Hollywood nightclub My House reopened earlier this month after a makeover from L.A. hospitality group SBE Entertainment LLC as Emerson Theatre. … Cheesecake Factory spinoff restaurant Grand Lux Café will close its Beverly Center site March 19.

At Your Service

Pop-culture fashion retailer Hot Topic Inc. announced last week that Jim McGinty has resigned as chief financial officer, effective March 29, after 12 years with the City of Industry company. The announcement didn’t give a reason for his departure. George Wehlitz, who has served as vice president of finance since 2008, will step up as interim chief financial officer. Wehlitz formerly worked as chief financial officer at motorcycle apparel and accessories retailer Cycle Gear Inc. in Benicia. … Ritz Carlton Los Angeles and JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live announced last week that Anthony Olheiser had been named director of food and beverage for the downtown L.A. hotels. Olheiser came to the properties from the MGM Grand Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, where he served as director of entertainment and development.

Staff reporter Bethany Firnhaber can be reached at or (323) 549-5225, ext. 235.

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