There may be nothing more American than a deep-seated love of always having a choice in everything from our president to the food on our dinner plates, and Blast & Brew pizza and beer franchise is giving that old idea a new interpretation via artisanal pizza and craft beer.
The fast casual Neapolitan pizza concept not only builds on the idea of personalized pizza creations but adds another level of creativity for the customer as he or she might concoct from a wall filled with self-pour craft beer varieties. Here, the joy is in mixing and matching combinations of pie and pour.
California restaurant group, Milano International, recently signed a 12-unit deal for the concept's development throughout California's Central Coast with each location offering guests choices from more than 40 locally sourced and regionally tailored pizza ingredients and house-made sauces for "blasting" to bubbly perfection in an 825-degree oven. All can be washed down with the customer's choice of craft beer from a wall containing dozens of individual keg-connected taps.
Diners use a pre-paid program to choose from more than 30 local and regional craft brews that they pour themselves. And — a la Apple's wildly popular "genius bars" — customers at Blast & Brew can also tap into the knowledge of the chain's so-called on-site "Beer Geniuses."
Milano Restaurants CEO John Ferdinandi said the concept signed for the development of a dozen sites in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties with Cristallo Ventures over the next eight years. The group opened a franchised site last March in San Luis Obispo. Recently, Ferdinandi took a few questions from about his new venture.
Q: Where did this idea come from, and how do you connect the food with the beer, or is that even the main intent?
A: The fast casual pizza space and the fast casual space in general is very crowded, so we knew that Blast & Brew would have to be highly innovative and creative in order to break the mold. Pizza and beer naturally fit together, but a differentiator for our concept is the customizable beer experience we offer. We put careful thought and design into the menu to make sure our selections can all be complimented by beer. Blast & Brew allows guests to craft their food, craft their beer, and overall, craft their experience.
Q: What kind of market analysis went into the creation of this concept and what data pointed you in this direction?
A: Our research showed us that the fast casual pizza space was declining, so we knew we needed to break the mold and create a new space for ourselves. We saw that there was an opportunity to capitalize on the increasing demand for craft beer among consumers. When thinking of ways to incorporate craft beer into the menu, we first thought of a traditional tap behind-the-bar approach. Then, when we came across the self-pour system, we knew this would be a perfect fit to further allow our guests to customize their experience.
Q: So how does the beer wall and the whole idea of mixing beer work?
A: Blast & Brew uses a self-pour tap system, eliminating the need for bartenders and putting control into the guests' hands. After purchasing a loaded wristband, customers can experiment with and sample any craft beers before committing to a full glass. The self-pour stations are accompanied by beer geniuses to guide guests in their tasting and food-pairing experience.
Q: Who are the beer geniuses, how are they trained and how do they help customers?
A:While creating the Blast & Brew concept, we knew we wanted to incorporate craft beer education into the experience. We provide the customer with support material to familiarize themselves to the craft beer vocabulary. Our beer geniuses are our knowledgeable team members who help our guests to educate them on things such as how to properly pour beer (and) what the difference is between an ale and stout.
Q: What has the customer reaction been and where is this concept headed?
A: Overall, the craft beer scene has become much more mainstream, with people's palates expanding and searching for more craft beers to explore. Our guests are always excited to see so many taps at their disposal while at Blast & Brew. Our guests love being able to taste the latest local, regional and national craft beers that they might not have found otherwise.
In addition to continued growth in California, we have prime territories available for expansion across the United States, including metropolitan areas such as Phoenix and Dallas, as well as college towns across the country.
/ Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.