Papa John's founder blasts the chain he started after eating 40 pizzas in 30 days
John Schnatter is at it again.
Papa John’s International Inc.’s notorious founder and former leader lambasted the pizza chain publicly for the second time in as many months, naming a handful of executives that he says should be jailed while calling out the new chief as having “no pizza experience.”
Schnatter—who made the comments in a local media interview with WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky, where the restaurant chain is based—also took a dig at the food quality. He said he’s eaten more than 40 pizzas in 30 days, and “It’s not the same pizza.” The company’s shares slipped as much as 1.5% in Tuesday trading.
Papa John’s didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
The pizza chain, which got an investment earlier this year from activist investor Starboard Value LP, has been working to mount a comeback following a sales slump and a scandal involving Schnatter’s use of a racist slur that the founder says was taken out of context. The use of the slur during a May 2018 training call with Laundry Service, which was Papa John's creative agency at the time, was made public in a July 2018 Forbes article.
Earlier this month, the chain reported better-than-expected quarterly sales and announced a slew of management changes including a new chief marketing officer, Max Wetzel. In August, it named a new chief executive officer, former Arby’s executive Rob Lynch, who replaced Steve Ritchie. Starboard CEO Jeff Smith has been chairman of Papa John's since February.
Lynch’s appointment has eased investor concerns, with the company’s share price rising about 28 percent since he stepped in. Still, Schnatter said he isn’t satisfied, given Lynch has no background in pizza or previous CEO experience. Lynch was president of Arby's after serving as its CMO and leading a revitalization of that chain's image including its "we have the meats" slogan. He had also served as president of the Arby's Franchisee Association while he was at that chain.
Schnatter also said Papa John's managers “stole the company” and contends some executives, including director Olivia Kirtley and former director Mark Shapiro, should be in jail.
A spokesman for Schnatter didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on why he makes that assertion. Shapiro declined to comment, while Kirtley couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Once the largest shareholder, Schnatter still owns at least a 9 percent stake, according to Bloomberg data. He says he isn’t trying to take over at this time but cryptically suggested multiple times that viewers “stay tuned” for more.
“My metaphor is there’s no reason to be in the car when the car crashes, even if you love the car,” he said.
The No. 4 pizza chain in August hired Camp & King as its new creative agency after working with Endeavor Global Marketing for a year.
— Bloomberg News with contributions from Ad Age