You may think LeBron James was insane for walking away from a $15 million McDonald’s endorsement deal for an up-and-coming pizza chain, but his investment is paying off as the company is growing at a record pace.
California-based Blaze Pizza has launched with the fastest start for an American food service business after going from two to 200 open restaurants nationwide in four years, Forbes magazine confirmed with food service consultancy Technomic. The company is looking to move to the international stage soon, CEO Jim Mizes told Forbes, and he applauded James as their brand ambassador.
“LeBron helps us punch in terms of our brand awareness well above our weight,” he said.
James invested in the company in 2012 soon after the first stores opened at UC Irvine. At the time, the Cleveland Cavaliers small forward had a sponsorship with McDonald’s, and in 2015, according to his business manager Maverick Carter, he declined to renew his contract and walked away from $14 million to $15 million.
“I believed in the actual product first,” James said in April on the “Kneading Dough” episode of his online show “Uninterrupted,” a show produced and hosted by Carter and James. “I remember going to UC Irvine, the first-ever Blaze, and we tasted the product and the product was phenomenal. … And you [Carter] came to me with the proposition that we actually own our own and be franchisees of a couple cities in America. And the numbers that you were showing me, the numbers that we could make if we just put the time [and] effort into it, would be exceeding what McDonald’s would be giving me guaranteed over the next four years.”
Blaze Pizza’s sales have grown from $6 million in 2013 to $185 million in 2016, and plans are to build 100 to 150 restaurants annually beginning next year.