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Live Basil is on the edge of a “sea change” within the $60 billion pizza space, Ryan said.

“We think there’s a change going on in general. We think fast casual represents the way people want to eat, and we think pizza is ready for a sea change in that direction,” Ryan said.

Live Basil’s pizza is “more relevant in that it’s great flavored, great tasting, but modern and lighter in nature,” he said. “We want it to be fulfilling, rather than really filling.”

While many emerging fast-casual pizza players have focused on customization, Schaden predicts less than half of Live Basil customers will choose to build their own pies.

Live Basil Pizza's Margherita (left) and Italian and Wild Mushroom pizzas.

“When we do consumer research, people really do want that ability (to build their own). They want to be empowered. But there are a lot of folks that also want something designed for them,” he said. “They want the convenience and ease of choosing something the chef put together. That’s a very powerful mix.”

Live Basil joins a growing number of fast-casual pizza concepts that are growing rapidly, hoping to become the first such national chain, although the largest among them — Your Pie, based in Athens, Ga. — has only 17 locations.

Others include Seattle-based MOD Pizza; Pasadena, Calif.-based Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza; Los Angeles-based PizzaRev and 800 Degrees; Atlanta-based Uncle Maddio’s; San Diego-based Project Pie; and The Colony, Texas-based Pie Five.

Ryan said the category is still in the early stages of defining itself, but the activity indicates that consumers are asking for a change.

“Some of those chains are really fast casual, but not fresh,” he said. “We want to define the category, not just compete with early upstarts.”

Just as Smashburger was among an early group of fast-casual better burger concepts to attempt national chain status when it launched in 2006, he said, “We are defining what the future of pizza will be for the next generation from a product, freshness, service and value point of view.”