Editor’s note: Welcome to Meet the Exec, a Q&A series that explores how major restaurant executives are honing strategies for success in their new roles. Today, we spotlight Blaze Pizza CEO Beto Guajardo, who discusses his concerns about the future of automation and how the chain is working to make its offerings more affordable.
When Beto Guajardo joined Blaze Pizza as CEO in January, the brand had been focused on franchise expansion for a while, signing a flurry of domestic franchising deals in 2021 and 2022. The chain has maintained its growth goals In the first months of Guajardo’s tenure, signing an agreement in April to enter Bahrain.
The chain has also leveraged LTOs to drive sales, like its Pi Day (March 14) promotion. In June, Blaze launched monthly value offers to draw customers. Some promotions, like its June discount on a pepperoni pizza, are tied to classic pizzas and flavors, while others — namely its July Hawaiian pizza deal — sync up with seasonal ingredients.
Later in June, the brand appointed two Focus Brands executives, Johnny Tellez and Kevin Moran, as chief operating officer and chief development officer, respectively. Both worked at Focus while Guajardo led that multi-brand platform as president.
With new leadership, a robust development pipeline and a host of value-focused promotions all in place, Guajardo discussed his first seven months at Blaze in an email interview with Restaurant Dive. He also shared what the near future holds for the brand, including efforts to build customer experiences robots can’t replace.
This article was edited for clarity, style and brevity.
RESTAURANT DIVE: What are the biggest challenges Blaze Pizza faces this year, and what are your strategies to overcome them?
BETO GUAJARDO: The biggest challenges Blaze Pizza faces this year are rising food costs and labor shortages. To overcome these challenges, we are focusing on increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and attracting talent. We are also working to develop new menu items that are more affordable and appealing to a wider range of customers.
What lessons have you learned from previous positions that you bring to your current role?
I have learned a lot from my previous positions, but some of the most important lessons include: the importance of customer service; the value of teamwork; the need to be adaptable and flexible; and the importance of continuous learning.
I bring these lessons to my current role at Blaze Pizza, and I am committed to using them to help the company grow and succeed.
What excites you about your company’s trajectory for the next three years?
I am excited about Blaze Pizza's trajectory for the next three years. I believe that the company has a strong brand, a great product and a talented team. I am confident that we will continue to grow and succeed in the years to come.
What’s a trend that concerns you that people aren’t talking about?
One trend that concerns me is the rise of automation in the restaurant industry. As robots and other automated technologies become more common, it will be important for Blaze Pizza to find ways to differentiate itself from its competitors. We need to focus on providing a unique and personalized customer experience that cannot be replicated by machines.
What areas is Blaze focusing on for franchise development in the U.S. and why?
Blaze Pizza is focusing on franchise development in several key areas in the U.S.
One is major metropolitan areas. Blaze Pizza is looking to expand its presence in markets such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. These areas have a large and diverse population that is receptive to new dining concepts.
Another is college towns. These areas have large and transient populations that are looking for quick and affordable food.
Finally, we’re looking at suburban areas as these markets are growing and have large and affluent populations.
Blaze Pizza is focusing on these areas because they offer a large and growing market for the company's products.
How do Blaze's business model and concurrent challenges and opportunities differ from those you've encountered at past companies?
Blaze Pizza's business model is different from those of my previous companies in several ways. First, Blaze Pizza is a fast casual restaurant, while my previous companies were more traditional quick-service restaurants. This means that Blaze Pizza focuses on providing a more upscale dining experience, with higher-quality ingredients and a more personalized customer service experience.
Second, Blaze Pizza is a franchised business, while my previous companies were corporate-owned. This means that Blaze Pizza relies on a network of franchisees to operate its restaurants. This model has both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, it allows Blaze Pizza to expand more quickly than it could if it were only corporate-owned. On the other hand, it can be more difficult to maintain quality control when there are multiple franchisees operating restaurants.
Overall, I believe that Blaze Pizza's business model is both challenging and rewarding. I am excited to be a part of the company and to help it grow and succeed in the years to come.