By Published on .

Back in the mid'80s, when aspiring Pizza baron John Schnatter was

broke, he remembers reading about Domino's Pizza founder Tom

Monaghan buying the Detroit Tigers for $55 million.

"I thought, if you could buy a $55 million ball team from making a lousy pizza, imagine what you could do with a good pizza," says the founder and CEO of Papa John's International, the No. 4 pizza chain racing into new markets nationwide.

Mr. Schnatter, 35, doesn't like to fancy himself a marketer.

"When you start your business out of the back of a bar, you don't get an MBA in marketing," he says.

Still, his single-minded commitment to making great-quality pizza evolved into a marketing strategy: "Better ingredients. Better pizza."

That's the tagline the 1,300-unit chain used this spring in its first national TV campaign, from Fricks/Firestone, Atlanta.

With its claim to better-quality ingredients and preparation at a low price, Papa John's challenges the equities of all three big pizza players: Pizza Hut, Domino's and Little Caesars. Papa John's TV spots take on Pizza Hut directly, featuring Pizza Hut founder Frank Carney-now a Papa John's franchisee-in the kitchen with Mr. Schnatter.

Papa John's sales shot up 42.1% to $253.4 million last year, while its pizza competitors recorded modest sales gains or declines. Same-store sales for the chain grew an impressive 11.9%.

Mr. Schnatter is taking to the airwaves again next month to talk about his fresh ingredients in a radio campaign created by Richards Group, Dallas. TV spots showing the company founder visiting ingredient suppliers may appear later this year.

While Mr. Schnatter hasn't had time to buy a ball team yet, the University of Louisville is naming its new football stadium Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in honor of the Papa's generous donation.

Most Popular
In this article: