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  • Pizza wars are coming

    Chains race for more slices of the customized pie; expect to see an assembly line of delectable culinary construction
  • In the next few years, a new kind of chain pizza restaurant will pop up by the thousands across the country, pouring tomato sauce and grating mozzarella over America's culinary landscape in the race to become "the Chipotle of pizza."
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  • In the next few years, a new kind of chain pizza restaurant will pop up by the thousands across the country, pouring tomato sauce and grating mozzarella over America's culinary landscape in the race to become "the Chipotle of pizza."
    That means diners get to customize their own pizzas as they're prepared in assembly-line fashion in an environment somewhere between fast-food and upscale. The pizzas are usually 11 to 12 inches, cost about $7 and are baked in a super-hot oven, so diners are sitting down to eat within minutes. Like Chipotle, the newest pizza chains tout premium ingredients — organic baby spinach, Fra' Mani salami, porcini mushrooms and bacon marmalade.
    Rick Wetzel, the name behind Wetzel's Pretzels and co-founder of Pasadena, Calif.-based Blaze Pizza, points out that 41 percent of Americans eat pizza once a week and 90 percent eat it once a month.
    "I think that this category is probably good for 5,000 restaurants across the U.S. in seven to 10 years. ... I want my share of them."
    If the number of pizzas being made is any indication, they're all on to something. Anthony Carron, chef and co-founder of 800 Degrees Pizzeria, says its Westwood location in Los Angeles has sold more than 275,000 pizzas since it launched last year. Wetzel says the Blaze in Pasadena is "doing upward of 1,000 pizzas a day. The numbers are insane."
    More build-your-own pizzerias seem to open every day. Spin Pizza of Kansas City, Mo., now has locations in Orange County, Calif., and plans to open a Huntington Beach, Calif., pizzeria in the spring; Pizza Press of Anaheim, Calif., is developing a franchising strategy; and the founders of California Pizza Kitchen are expected to launch a yet-to-be-announced customizable-pizza concept this year.
    How to keep up with them all? Here's a guide to several major contenders.
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