Back in 2012, Lebron James, his business partner Maverick Carter, and financial adviser Paul Wachter of Main Street Advisors made an investment for less than $1 million in upstart fast-casual chain Blaze Pizza. Five years later, that investment has turned into $25 million, according to ESPN.
The valuation was confirmed when private equity firm Brentwood Associates acquired an undisclosed percentage of the company a few weeks ago that gave the company a value at around $250 million. James owns around 10 percent.
James’ endorsement payments should trigger in the near future on an undisclosed sales target, which will increase his stake in the business’ worth to around $35-$40 million, sources told ESPN. This number does not include his partnership with Larry Levy, a restaurateur who runs franchises in Miami and Chicago.
The four-time MVP, along with most of the other investors in Blaze Pizza, already took some money off the table, but it is unclear just how much he made in the deal.
Wachter was the first of the group to get an inside look at the company, and was immediately impressed with what he saw in the management team, along with the product itself. After seeing it for themselves, James and Carter could see the potential of the company as well.
The two were looking for their next big investment after making around $30 million off a stake in Beats by Dre when the company sold to Apple for $3 billion.
“LeBron and I have always been about finding companies that we truly believe in and putting real money into them,” Carter said. “We’re not talking putting in $15,000 or $20,000. It’s real money plus the expertise, understanding and knowledge that we bring, as well as bringing LeBron’s name and likeness to the product.”
Although he made the initial investment in 2012, James was not allowed to endorse Blaze Pizza due to his deal with McDonald’s. However, news that he was involved in the company was huge, said Rick Wetzel, who came up with the Blaze make-your-own-pizza idea with his wife Elise in 2011.
“When he invested in us so early on, he established us as the market leader,” said Wetzel. “He put a star on our forehead as a company that was legitimate.”
In 2015, James left his McDonald’s deal, which still had three years and $14 million left, in order to become a Blaze Pizza spokesman. With his 37 million Twitter followers and 32 million Instagram followers, James’ social media presence added enormous value to the company.
“Every time LeBron tweets about Blaze, it’s like a sonic boom,” Elise Wetzel said. “It jump-starts the conversation with tens of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world and leads to a genuine interaction between people who know and love the brand and people who haven’t heard of us.”
Blaze Pizza recently became the fastest-growing chain in North American food history, with 200 stores created in four years. The company hopes to hit 1,000 stores and $1 billion in sales by 2022, and has their sights set on an eventual initial public offering, which would net everyone involved a large sum of money.