Nearly every day, there’s a new article about another industry that millennials are killing. Traditional brick-and-mortar retail, for instance. Hotels. Napkins. Casual dining. Anything that’s been around for decades has been added to the watchlist. But Juliana Strieff, vice president of design and construction for Blaze Pizza, disagrees.
“Millennials aren’t killing the restaurant industry. They’re making it.” Strieff looks at the growing statistics of customers opting for takeout or delivery as an opportunity rather than a discouraging reality. The experience of sitting down rather than ordering carryout is now a novelty. “When people go out to restaurants, they’re going to have higher expectations,” she says. “You go in for the community. We’re selling a night out; we’re selling entertainment. We’re social creatures at the end of the day. We want to come together and share a meal.”
According to mobile ordering company LevelUp, 67 percent of people who order online are more likely to visit the restaurant in person. “It’s not an either-or scenario; it’s both,” Strieff explains. “We can’t take our focus off of making these really interesting, unique settings and places for people to come together and enjoy themselves, because that’s never going to change.
“Millennials are keeping everyone honest and on their game,” she adds. “It’s the best thing that could have ever happened.”
Blaze Pizza doesn’t shy away from change. The company itself is a pioneer of pizza innovation. Even its executive chef, Bradford Kent, is nicknamed “The Pizza Whisperer,” and LeBron James serves as one of its earliest investors.
Unlike big name brands Domino’s or Pizza Hut, Blaze offers flat-rate customizable pizzas built by the customers themselves through an assembly line similar to Chipotle’s. These 11-inch personal pies are then fired in the oven before customers’ eyes in just 180 seconds, making it a fast-casual chain of choice for patrons who want quality on their own time.
As Strieff leads the brand’s refresh, she notes that it’s important to the company to evolve the menu and offerings while keeping the spaces themselves true to the original atmosphere. “These new designs are meant to be members of the same family, not previously recognizable but familiar,” the VP explains, noting that the original designer who established the “brand’s DNA” still works with the company to maintain and evolve it. “We’ve shifted the mind-set of being a really small brand to being national.”
Blaze opened its first restaurant in 2012 and now has more than 300 locations worldwide. Creating a design template for a restaurant with that many locations is very different from one that hovers around 100, Strieff says. Working with a smaller number of restaurants allows the designer and architect the luxury to continually evolve the brand presence, whereas there is far less control when there are hundreds of locations under one’s purview.
“I wouldn’t say you need to be much more prescriptive, but you really have to think about what’s significant and what isn’t significant,” the VP says. “We need to consider what can keep the image durable. And when I say durable, I’m not speaking only of keeping the furniture but also of having an image that’s not trendy, not something you’ll want to put on Instagram and then in two weeks [get sick of].”
Small details—like the material of the seating—are what matters. “Laminated plywood will chip at the edges and you need to think about that,” Strieff notes. “How does that impact the profit and loss of the company?” It’s these types of considerations that the VP’s team needs to keep in mind, especially when keeping up with a company that’s expanding so rapidly.
Luckily for Strieff, strategic thinking is a skill she refined during her college years. She graduated from Illinois State University with a fine arts degree, then received a master’s in architecture from North Carolina State University, and credits the experience of these studies as one of her best assets. “This background is a foundation for a lot of things I’ve done,” she explains. “Going to art school teaches you to not give up on things, too, because if you’re making something new, it’s creativity and art and design. It’s all about innovation.
“When you make art, it’s really just a personal interpretation of whatever experience is happening, something that you want to say to the world,” Strieff continues. “You have to learn before you make anything to see and understand the world. And that, I think, is probably the most significant thing for me, because it has helped me to be a much better problem-solver for architectural design problems, personnel, and leadership issues.”
Earlier in her career, Strieff applied this line of thinking on projects with JBI Interiors. “Working with Juliana is always a pleasure,” says Andy Braddy, the executive vice president of sales and business development for the company. “Her highly collaborative process of design and development ties well into the culture at JBI. Juliana empowers JBI to utilize our expertise and thought partnership to codevelop innovative and functional interior spaces.”
This experience has allowed the VP to approach the ever-changing industry dynamically through her work at Blaze. To accommodate the younger market, Blaze has rolled out an app and reward system to uphold convenience while also giving people what they truly want, which the VP affirms is “really good food.”
“Blaze has a very entrepreneurial spirit that permeates the company, and it’s very scrappy despite its size,” Strieff says. “We’re not a little company anymore, but it’s not a bad thing. We’ve got the enthusiasm of a start-up and the scope of a contender.”
Proluxe is dominating the popular pizza industry along with manufacturing the fastest growing stone hearth oven brand in the US. Proluxe’s innovative in-house engineering and product development team is designing a new high-performance stone hearth pizza oven. It’s equipped with a lower dome sitting at 16 inches and a brick deck embedded with an electric heating system. This oven powerfully radiates heat for more efficient cooking and beautifully baked pizzas.