I ate the same meal from 2 of the fiercest competitors in fast-casual pizza and found that MOD Pizza beat Blaze Pizza in almost every category
Irene Jiang / Business Insider
- Blaze Pizza and MOD Pizza are two competitors leading the fast-casual pizza industry.
- They've been neck-and-neck in the race, but this year MOD's systemwide sales growth outpaced Blaze's by far, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
- I went to the Blaze Pizza on Staten Island, New York, and the MOD Pizza in Bellevue, Washington, to see what the chains were doing differently.
- My meal at MOD won out on all fronts, including speed, taste, and customizability. However, Blaze did make a better dessert.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
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There's more than one way to fire a pie.
And there's more than one way to run a national chain of fast-casual restaurants serving made-to-order personal pizzas. MOD Pizza and Blaze Pizza have been neck-and-neck in the fast-casual-pizza race for a while. Blaze was dubbed the fastest-growing restaurant chain in history by research firm Technomic in 2017.
But, in 2019 MOD's growth has blown Blaze's out of the water, with systemwide sales growing more than 44%, according to Nation's Restaurant News. The Seattle-based chain plans to reach 1,000 locations in the next five years.
The two chains have near-identical concepts: speedy, customizable, freshly made pizzas with grab-and-go sides and beer on tap.
So who does it better?
Since I'm from Seattle, MOD was my go-to fast-casual pizza first. But I frequently ate at Blaze during my college years in the Midwest. I hadn't been to either in years, so I didn't have a favorite going into this taste test.
I went to both MOD and Blaze to compare dining experiences. I ordered largely the same meal: a side salad, a bread-based appetizer, a custom pizza, a chocolate-based dessert, and a beer on tap.
Here's how they compared:
I made the arduous journey to the Blaze Pizza in lower Staten Island, New York.
Blaze's interior was sleek, well-lit, and overly spacious.
You can choose your pizza or build your own, with toppings incurring an extra charge.
I went to the MOD Pizza in Bellevue, Washington. It's one of the national chain's earliest locations.
MOD's interior was dimly lit but full of local character.
Pizzas are sold by size and completely customizable at no extra cost. Any and all additional toppings are free.
At Blaze, the journey begins with the dough, which is pressed into rounds at the front of the assembly line.
At MOD, the dough crust is pre-made and stored in racks.
At Blaze, you can choose from four ready-made salad choices.
At MOD, you can choose from pre-designed salads or you can make your own. Either way, salads are completely customizable at no extra cost.
Blaze was empty when I went, but it still took nearly 10 minutes for my order to be started. There was an apparent lack of communication between the staff. I had to reiterate my order several times to various people as I moved from pizza assembly to check-out.
Meanwhile, MOD started my order almost immediately.
At Blaze, I ordered a three-topping personal pizza with Italian sausage, mushrooms, and onions. My pizza artist asked me if I wanted extra cheese. When I said no, she emphasized that it was free. I said yes.
Since toppings were no extra cost at MOD, I went a little overboard with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and artichokes.
You can spice your Blaze pizza with oregano and salt. I chose both.
At MOD, there are three spice options: rosemary, oregano, and salt and pepper.
The Blaze oven has a wide and flat opening. It goes in and comes out on the same long, wooden pizza paddle.
The oven at MOD is a simple metal machine. The pizza is slid off the pan into the hot oven and retrieved by a long pizza paddle.
Blaze had four beers on tap. When I asked my cashier if any of the beers were local, she said she didn't know anything about beer, and that she thought all of them were local. I chose a Peroni, which is an Italian pale lager.
MOD only had two beers on tap. One was a local IPA and one was an Alaskan pale ale. My cashier explained the difference in detail to me, but I already knew I didn't want the IPA.
My meal at Blaze included dough knots, a tomato and mozzarella sandwich, a pint of Peroni lager, a custom pizza with keto crust, and a chocolate brownie.
My meal at MOD was comprised of garlic strips, a simple salad, an Alaskan pale ale, a custom pizza, and No Name Cake.
BLAZE — DOUGH KNOTS: Not to be confused with doughnuts, Blaze's dough knots are savory pesto twists made with fresh dough.
They came with a marinara dipping sauce. My pizza artist had told me they were garlic knots, so I was surprised that they had no garlic flavor.
Without the sauce, they were doughy and a little tough and flavorless. I found myself missing the garlic that never was.
MOD — GARLIC STRIPS: MOD's garlic strips came with a choice of sauce. I chose pesto.
They were thin, crispy, and smothered in herbs and minced garlic.
They went exceptionally well with the generous pesto sauce, although they weren't quite as thick or doughy as I would have liked from a garlic bread appetizer.
BLAZE — TOMATO AND MOZZARELLA SALAD: Blaze's tomato and mozzarella salad came in a plastic takeaway container.
It was surprisingly well-balanced, with a solid base of lettuce and arugula. Refreshingly light mozzarella went hand-in-hand with the tomato and roasted pepper.
The pesto dressing, however, was salty and watery. It dragged the rest of the salad down with it.
MOD — SIMPLE SALAD: MOD's salad came in a plastic bowl.
It was simple: spring greens, roasted red peppers, and asiago cheese. I chose a balsamic dressing.
The simple salad was indeed simple. But all of its ingredients were high-quality, and in the end MOD salads are endlessly customizable. They're as good as you make them.
BLAZE — THREE-TOPPING PIZZA: I chose the option with the most toppings, and it still wasn't quite enough. I also chose a keto crust.
The Italian sausage was large but bland, and the whole pizza tasted generally undercooked. The keto crust was the most impressive element. It mimicked the taste and texture of traditional crust pretty closely, but it only had three grams of carbs per slice.
The constituents of Blaze's pizza were all OK, but none felt especially high-quality. And I wish I hadn't listened to my pizza artist about the extra cheese. There was too much cheese.
MOD — MOD PIZZA: Since toppings are free at MOD, I loaded my pizza with pepperoni, spicy chicken sausage, artichokes, onions, and mushrooms on a red sauce and mozzarella base.
MOD's impossibly thin, impossibly crispy crust was a triumph.
Everything about this pizza tasted of quality. The sausage was juicy and flavorful, the pepperoni spicy, and the onion and mushroom caramelized for a soft, biteable texture.
BLAZE — PERONI LAGER: The Peroni pale lager was a little too dry and bitter for my taste. I'd probably go with a Blue Moon next time. Unfortunately, there were no local beers to choose from.
MOD — ALASKAN PALE ALE: Crisp and mild, the Alaskan pale ale at MOD was the ideal partner for my pizza. It enhanced the savory flavor notes.
BLAZE — CHOCOLATE BROWNIE: There are three desserts to choose from at Blaze: a chocolate brownie, a chocolate chip cookie with sea salt, and a s'more pie. I chose the brownie.
My cashier had offered to place my brownie in the pizza oven to heat it up, then promptly forgot about it. When I went back to the counter to retrieve it, my cashier apologized and noted that it was "probably pretty hot by now."
Blaze's chocolate brownie is deeply satisfying. Sweet, gooey, and practically oozing chocolate, it's the perfect chocolate dessert.
MOD — NO NAME CAKE: No Name Cake is the only pre-made dessert MOD has to offer. You can also order cinnamon strips with strawberry, cinnamon glaze, or chocolate dipping sauce.
The No Name Cake is essentially a high-end Hostess Ding Dong. It's a soft chocolate cake with a creme filling and a coat of chocolate.
It was moist and sweet, but if I wanted a Ding Dong, I'd just go to Safeway. I was disappointed that this cake wasn't more interesting.
My meal at Blaze left a few things to be desired. I was surprised at the glacial speed of service and disorder behind the counter, especially compared to MOD's flawless pace of service. Blaze also offered a much more limited degree of customizability.
On the other hand, the dining process at MOD was easy and quick, and the staff seemed very knowledgeable about the food. The quality of the food was slightly better, but where MOD really outshines Blaze is in customizability. The fact that pizzas and salads are priced by size and not by toppings makes it feel like you can truly do anything you want with your meal at MOD.
In fast-casual pizza, three things are key: speed, taste, and customizability. MOD clearly beat Blaze on all three fronts. However, Blaze's addictive chocolate dessert won the chain some brownie points.
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