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Fall 2019

“I learned firsthand the power a team can have when bringing ideas to life.”

Elise Wetzel co-founded Blaze Pizza, which is one of the fastest-growing franchises in the U.S. By Sean Hargadon

Blaze Pizza started with a trip to Chipotle in 2011. Looking for a no-wait pizza lunch, Elise Wetzel ’87, ’92 MBA and her husband, Rick, ended up eating burritos, but the made-your-way format sparked an idea.

They immediately started sketching out plans for a build-your-own pizza shop. A year later, Blaze Pizza was born. It started with two California locations and has expanded to become one of the fastest-growing franchises in the U.S., with more than 340 restaurants in 41 states and five countries.

Now Blaze is gunning for the pizza delivery giants, introducing larger, shareable sizes.

Wetzel first learned to think about consumer behavior when she studied economics as an undergrad and earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, where she was part of the “28% Club,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the percentage of women students at Kellogg when she attended. “We would say membership has its privileges, like the line in the women’s room wasn’t very long.” (The Kellogg Class of 2020 is a record-high 46% women.)

“My time at Northwestern was foundational,” she says. “I learned firsthand the power a team can have when bringing ideas to life. In one advertising class, I was part of a group charged with creating a campaign for the National Egg Commission. That shared endeavor gave me a more layered learning experience than working in an individual silo and was a great lesson in the value of teamwork.”

Elise and Rick have been launching brands as a team for 25 years, starting with Wetzel’s Pretzels in 1994. They have a daughter, Madison, and a son, Jack, who is a sophomore at Northwestern.

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