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64. Blaze Pizza

Classification: Franchise

Location: St. Louis Park, Minnesota

I was not yet five years old when my family moved from a dirt-roaded exurban ranch house we'd been renting to a 3-bedroom split-level in a brand-new housing tract 25 minutes closer to the city, where the streets were named with a patriotic theme and 2-4 kids populated every single house. The ice cream truck rolled through every week in the summer, and Kenny the Dry Cleaner made his rounds on Tuesdays. In hindsight, we were Exhibit #1A of the Eisenhower version of the American Dream: Mom and Dad with three kids, a station wagon, and a modern home with a big yard in a first-ring suburb. It's not difficult to envision a peppy 60s vocal soundtrack constantly looping in the background of my early childhood.

Being so young, my memory flickers on and off about that day's physical move, but by nightfall, everything would crystallize. As the long day of packing and moving melted into to the family dinner hour, life was about to become even more American.

That night, we did not have pizza: instead, Dad took us to a hamburger restaurant that served us in about one minute, and whose brilliantly illuminated roadside sign boasted for the entire world to witness that they had served over one billion people. It was a marvel. But this is a pizza blog after all, so I don't want to name the restaurant, but I recently drove past a different store with the same name and saw their sign has been modified to read "billions and billions served."

All of this leads us to a new pizza entry that which borrowed its efficiency model from this hamburger chain, and added Subway/Chipotle-style customization options. Blaze Pizza can serve you a freshly-made, cooked-to-order pizza in about three minutes. But placing it into a singular category was confounding: it can simultaneously be traditional (dining room), franchise; (there are 500 across North America); artisan (all the basil you could ever want); convenience (served at great speed); or even specialty (it's not really like any other place.) Launched in 2011 in Irvine, California, one of its ground-floor investors was LeBron James, so it's got some pedigree. I visited in 2016 with Swen and my son-in-law, and we agreed that, like its fast-food brethren, it's probably not the absolute summit as a dining experience. Nor was it the landscape-altering experience from moving day decades ago, but the influence of that magical night still lingers. (6 of 10 stars)

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