Papa John's Is Losing Its Papa

Papa John's Is Losing Its Papa

The popular pizza chain, known for featuring founder "Papa" John Schnatter in its commercials, announced Thursday that Schnatter will step down as CEO at the beginning of next month.

Papa John's, which lays claim to being the nation's third-largest pizza chain, could not be reached immediately for comment.

"This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago", Schnatter said on a conference call with investors in November.

In revising sales estimates for the next quarter, Papa John's president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie said on the call that the National Football League deal was the primary suspect behind the decline and that "we expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place".

He said the practice of players kneeling during the anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and social injustice hurt the NFL's TV ratings, which in turn hurt sales of his pizza, which is advertised heavily during games. Steve Ritchie, formally the company's COO, will be installed as CEO in January.

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Schnatter isn't the first founder to step away recently from CEO duties at the company he built from scratch.

Schnatter founded the company in 1984 after turning a broom closet in his father's tavern into a pizza station. No reason for Schnatter's changing role was given, but the company said he will be pursing "his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development, and education", according to Bloomberg.

Schnatter has stepped down as CEO before in 2005 after a period of declining sales at the company, then returned three years later.

Industry insiders were caught off guard by Schnatter's decision.

What made this more puzzling was that Papa John's third-quarter sales were pretty much in line during the hard period.

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