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In a Twist, Pretzel Vendors Will Try Selling Pizza

Wetzel’s Pretzels co-founders Rick and Elise Wetzel are now rolling their dough into the pizza business. The duo will open two fast-casual pizza restaurants, called Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, this summer.

The concept is based on an assembly line process, similar to that of Chipotle Mexican Grill. But instead of burritos or tacos, customers will make 11-inch personalized pizzas with toppings such as marinated artichokes, gorgonzola cheese, roasted red peppers and arugula. Once topped, pizzas will be baked in two minutes. They’ll cost about $7.

The first Blaze location will open mid-July near the campus of UC Irvine. At 2,600 square feet, it will seat up to 90 people. The second will open Sept. 1 in Pasadena, in a space currently occupied by Vroman’s Fine Writing, Gifts and Stationary. Both eateries will offer wine and beer and have space for outdoor dining.

Investors backing the Blaze business include Maria Shriver, former first lady of California; film producer John Daves; and Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner. The Wetzels hired L.A. chef Bradford Kent, owner of Olio Pizzeria & Café, to help develop the menu.

Even though there are already about 67,000 pizza places open in the United States, Rick Wetzel believes he and Elise have found a niche.

“We stumbled on to these trends of better, healthier eating, and the uprising of fast-casual dining,” he said. And while people may grab pizza by the slice for a quick lunch, he believes Blaze will offer a more complete meal.

“Pizza’s been predominantly dinner,” he said. “We’re looking to enter the lunch segment.”

The Wetzels plan to franchise the restaurant concept shortly after opening the first two.

“I’ve already gotten franchise leads, but I have to write them back and say, ‘Please stand by,’” Rick Wetzel said.

Elise Wetzel also founded iSold It, an eBay drop-off store franchise, which was purchased in 2009 by Greentag Franchise Corp. in Frisco, Texas.

Fashioning Better Business

The Los Angeles Fashion District Business Improvement District announced last month that it will join four other California business districts in a new initiative meant to help small-business owners gain access to financing and technical aid. The program, dubbed Capital Connections, was designed by Citigroup Inc.’s community development program to serve businesses with revenue less than $1 million. The Fashion District BID will work with the California Downtown Association and the Valley Economic Development Corp. to implement the Capital Connections program.

Kent Smith, executive director for the BID, said the 3,000 businesses he represents could use the help.

“The recession and the financial crisis has made it more challenging for businesses to access financing,” he said. “It’s made it more challenging just to be in business. We thought any opportunity to connect our businesses with both financial resources and help growing their business was something we wanted to jump on.”

Smith said the Fashion District is working to get the word out to local businesses about the program, which will last one year.

“Part of it is getting a website up so there’s a user-friendly way for us to get businesses connected with the programs,” he said. “And we need to work on outreach material.”

Other business improvement districts in California chosen to participate in the program include ones in Fresno, Long Beach, Napa and Sacramento.

Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, president of Citibank California, said the program’s ultimate goal is to create jobs.

“This program will help drive permanent job creation and retention in low- and moderate-income areas,” she said.

Revolving Doors

Berlin boutique Weltenbuerger, which sells high-fashion clothing and accessories for men and women, will open a second L.A. store, on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, on July 1. The first is in Los Feliz. … Container Store will open a fourth Los Angeles County location June 16. The 25,000-square-foot store, at Plaza El Segundo, is expected to bring 60 jobs to the area. … Hollywood-based artisan chocolate company John Kelly Chocolates opened a store on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica late last month. The store is the second for the company, which also sells chocolate through upscale third-party retailers such as Neiman-Marcus. … VF Corp. closed its Robertson Boulevard 7 for All Mankind store last month. Barry Miguel, president of the jeans brand, said the company closed the 3,200-square-foot shop and will be looking for a 2,000-square-foot location. … Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe and Thoroughbred Club, a longtime fixture on Fairfax Avenue in the Miracle Mile area, reopened recently after a change of ownership and a remodel. The layout remains the same, dominated by the tavern’s front-room bar, but the menu is all new.

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

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