Papa John’s (NASDAQ: PZZA) CEO John Schnatter has announced that he will be stepping down from the role as of January 1. No immediate reason was given for his decision. A press release from the company said he would “pursue his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development, and education.” He will be succeeded as CEO by President Steve Ritchie.
Schnatter built his home-delivery pizza chain into a national powerhouse and became one of the biggest names in fast food. The company now has more than 5,000 locations worldwide and is the third-largest pizza chain in the U.S. Schnatter currently owns about 25 percent of Papa John’s. He will remain as chairman of the board.
Schnatter also acts as the brand’s advertising pitchman. His pitch that Papa John’s has better ingredients and a better tasting product has been the company’s slogan for years. Papa John’s has not commented on whether he would remain the company’s pitchman.
Schnatter courted controversy recently when he blamed National Football League players’ kneeling during the playing of the national anthem for negatively affecting his company’s sales. The movement began with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Louisville-based Papa John’s is the official pizza sponsor of the NFL.
Schnatter said during a Nov. 1 analyst call, “We’re certainly disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago. This should’ve been nipped in the bud a year-and-a-half ago.” The company apologized for his comments on Nov. 14, saying in a tweet, “The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive.”
Schnatter has a history of making political statements that spark controversy. The founder has also previously spoken out against Obamacare, saying the healthcare law would be a “lose-lose” for Papa John’s franchisees and employees and ultimately drive up the price of its pizza. He also reportedly donated $1,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, though he did not publicly voice support for him.
In his book, “Papa: The Story of Papa John’s Pizza,” Schnatter slammed the U.S. regulatory system, writing, “America in 2016 is on the path to becoming what Germany was in 1867.” Schnatter’s great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1867. The Daily Stormer, a white-supremacist website, posted an article espousing Schnatter’s views and asking whether Papa John’s was the “official pizza of the alt-right”. The company responded that it didn’t want “hate groups” purchasing its products.