Another tiny investment by LeBron James and his business associates has turned into a fortune.
According to ESPN, a $1 million investment made by James, his business partner Maverick Carter, and financial consultant Paul Wachter of Main Street Advisors in upstart fast-casual restaurant Blaze Pizza in 2012 has grown to $25 million.
Blaze Pizza verified the figure when it sold an undisclosed percentage of the company to private equity firm Brentwood Associates a few weeks ago, valued at roughly $250 million, according to sources. About 10% of the company is owned by James.
According to insiders, James’ interest in the company is worth $35 million to $40 million, including endorsement payments that may kick in soon based on an undisclosed sales objective. This does not include his joint venture with restaurateur Larry Levy, who manages his franchises in Miami and Chicago.
James, like the majority of those who invested in Blaze Pizza, took a cut of the profits, but it’s unclear how much he pocketed.
Wachter was given a tour of the company by movie producer John Davis, who had previously invested in food companies such as Wetzel’s Pretzels. The Blaze make-your-own-pizza concept was created in 2011 by Rick Wetzel and his wife, Elise.
“We don’t typically advocate for our clients to invest in food businesses,” Wachter said. “The risk-reward equation is not generally that great, and there’s a lot of grinding and blocking and tackling, and it takes a while for a concept to go global.”
Wachter, on the other hand, said he loved the management team and was quite satisfied with the product.
James and Carter were in the same boat.
The two were looking for the next big thing after making $30 million off a stake in Beats by Dre when the headphones firm was 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.”
Because he had a deal with McDonald’s, James couldn’t endorse Blaze Pizza after the initial investment in 2012, but the fact that he was involved was huge, according to Rick Wetzel.
“When he invested in us so early on, he established us as the market leader,” Wetzel said. “He put a star on our forehead as a company that was legitimate.”
With three years and $14 million left on LeBron’s McDonald’s contract in 2015, James and Carter had to make a decision.
So James took the plunge and quit his job at McDonald’s to become a spokesperson for Blaze Pizza.
James’ worth was immediately apparent, with 37 million Twitter followers and 32 million Instagram followers.
“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.”
A video of James dressed up as “Ron” behind a Blaze Pizza counter in April went viral, garnering millions of views on YouTube and widespread media attention.
The whole benefit of James and Carter’s investment may not be realized for a long time. According to industry tracking firm Technomic, Blaze Pizza has become the fastest-growing chain in North American culinary history, with 200 locations opened in four years. By 2022, the firm hopes to have 1,000 outlets and $1 billion in revenues, as well as an initial public offering, which will be the true cash-out.