John Walch, owner of Blaze Pizza
Company address: 17530 West Bluemound Rd., Brookfield, WI 53045
Number of employees: 35
Family: Married with three sons
Where did Blaze Pizza originate and how did it end up in Brookfield?
“Blaze Pizza is headquartered in Pasadena, California. After selling my Panera Bread franchise in 2011, I was looking for another great restaurant concept to bring to Wisconsin. I found Blaze Pizza and knew immediately that it would be a hit here. There is no other restaurant like Blaze in the area, and since I like to be first in everything that I do, I couldn’t wait to bring this new trend to Brookfield. This was only the second Blaze Pizza outside of Southern California, so we are very early on in the brand and the whole fast-casual pizza arena.”
Why did you think that Blaze Pizza would be a good fit for southeastern Wisconsin?
“First and foremost, I believe in the quality of the pizza. We make our own dough and sauce and work hard to get great ingredients. I also love the interactive nature of the business; each guest co-creates their pizza using any of the 40 plus toppings they want. In the end, you get the equivalent of a $15 quality pizza but for only $7.45. Being born and raised here, I know that Wisconsinites like a good value, and so far that seems to be true.”
How would you describe the atmosphere at Blaze Pizza? What kind of dining experience can patrons expect?
“Blaze has a very casual atmosphere with high ceilings, bright accent colors and fun graphics. We also have comfortable wood chairs and tables so you can take a load off while enjoying your pizza. There is a lot of interaction between guests and employees on the line while making the pizza and when picking up the finished product. This leads to a fun and lively experience for everyone. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a casual meal with friends, a business lunch or a family outing.”
You claim that all your pizzas are made in 180 seconds or less. How is that possible?
“We use a Woodstone stone deck oven that cooks the pizza from both the bottom and the top. The bottom of the oven will be around 550 degrees, and inside the dome, it can get to 800 degrees. This, along with our special dough and thin crust, gives you an artisan pizza cooked directly on the deck of the oven. It’s the same type of oven you may see in Naples; it’s very old technology but the best for making pizza.”
What will be your restaurant’s main challenges this year?
“Continuing to get the word out about Blaze and what fast-fired artisan pizza is all about. Since there is nobody else doing this in the area, we are literally “blazing” new trails.”
Do you have any plans to expand Blaze Pizza with additional locations in the region?
“Yes, we are working on our second location in the Milwaukee area that we hope to open by late summer, and we are actively looking at locations in Madison as well.”
Do you have a business mantra?
“Trust is paramount. Trust comes from respect. Respect is earned.”
What was the best advice you ever received?
“Hire for personality because you can train skills, but you can’t teach friendliness.”
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?
“When I was running the Stadium Club at Arrowhead Stadium, we hosted an autograph charity event. The big draw that night was then quarterback Joe Montana. When it was his time to appear, I had to escort him up the central staircase with the director of security. At the top of the stairs, in the rush of excited fans, he took a step back and didn’t realize that he was still on the steps. The director of security and I ended up literally catching him before he stumbled down the steps. It’s not every day that you get to save an NFL quarterback.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
“I love spending time working on my 100-plus-year-old farmhouse and in the yard with my family.”