(NEW YORK) — Maria Shriver has gone from former first lady of California to pizza owner.
Shriver, a former journalist and the estranged wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is among a group of elite investors in Blaze Pizza, a U.S. chain of build-your-own pies. Other investors include Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner; film and TV producer John Davis, Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng, and Shriver’s son, Patrick Schwarzenegger.
“We love pizza,” Shriver told Bloomberg News. ”My son and I are really excited to be in the pizza business.”
Blaze was started by Rick and Elise Wetzel, the founders of Wetzel’s Pretzels, who opened two locations in Irvine and Pasadena, Calif., in 2012. Customers can create their own 11-inch pizza masterpieces, topping them with everything from bacon or Italian sausage to sautéed onion. Even gluten-free dough and vegan cheese are options.
And thanks to newfangled 800-degree ovens, the pizzas, which cost $6.85 each, take just two minutes to cook.
On Feb. 27, Blaze announced an agreement with Lessing’s Hospitality Group to open 10 stores in the New York metropolitan area and Connecticut. John Walch, who started 25 Panera Bread franchises, plans to open six locations in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.
According to Pete Lachapelle, founding member of the National Restaurant Association’s Pizzeria Council and the president and publisher of Pizza Today magazine, pizza is a $43 billion dollar industry, with about 70,000 independent and chain pizzerias in the U.S.
“Personally, I prefer your stereotypical old school pizzerias, where you walk in and tell them what you want, but certainly that has its place,” he said of the assembly line concept. “It’s a quick easy way to buy a whole pizza at lunchtime as opposed to a slice.”
And, he added, it might inspire people to eat healthier pies.
”Because everything is custom made, if you want your own veggie pizza you can build your own,” Lachapelle said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Aaron Smith, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Doug Criss, CNN