Blaze, &Pizza CEOs square off in franchise debate
&Pizza CEO Michael Lastoria skeptically scans Blaze Pizza CEO Jim Mizes "sleve tatoo."
Own 'em all or franchise 'em out? That was the age-old question &Pizza CEO Michael Lastoria and Blaze Pizza CEO Jim Mizes debated last month during a fun, but frank hour-long discussion at the Fast Casual Executive Summit in Nashville. These two well-known and established pizza restaurateurs each approaches growth differently and made great arguments for both sides of the coin with a rapt audience of restaurant executives watching and listening to every word.
Two different approaches
Jim Mizes, CEO and president of Blaze Pizza LLC, grew his company mostly through franchising, operating 215 franchises and five company-owned stores. The company-owned restaurants were developed to create operating systems for the franchisees.
Michael Lastoria, co-founder, CEO and creative director of &pizza, a 23-pizza-restaurants chain, chose the company-owned route. The company's concept is to reflect the culture and people of the neighborhood in which each restaurant is located.
Mizes said the decision to franchise depends on the company's goals. In his case, he wanted to expand as fast as possible when he decided to get into the fast casual pizza business in 2012.
"We saw that getting on the field fast was important," Mizes said.
For Lastoria, the goal was to embellish the uniqueness of each restaurant. Each &pizza has its own story that Lastoria works to incorporate into the store's design.
"This is about building something meaningful, special and will be around for decades to come," Lastoria said. People increasingly are choosing to visit businesses that reflect their own values.
Franchising's benefits acknowledged
Asked what the drawbacks are of company-owned stores, Lastoria said learning to operate a restaurant is difficult, and as an independent owner, he had to learn things like how to hire good operators and how to negotiate real estate transactions.
Lastoria acknowledged that franchising provides a way to teach operators these operational tasks.
Asked how he controls franchisees as they grow, Mizes said every franchisee has a voice in the organization's decision. There are monthly meetings and an annual meeting. There is no franchisee council that makes the decisions. Every franchisee has a voice.
Mizes disputed the idea that franchising doesn't allow for store originality. He said he liked Lastoria's idea of having a story for each restaurant and has incorporated this concept into his franchisees' restaurants.
Mizes also said he believes he communicates with his franchisees as often as Lastoria communicates with his employees.
Can you have it both ways?
Asked if it would be possible to have both franchises and company-owned stores, both Lastoria and Mizes said it would be difficult.
"I think it would be very, very hard to do both well," Lastoria said. But it could be done."
The session demonstrated that both business models can be successful with the right execution.
Feature photo: Matt Tilbury
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.