CEO of Papa John’s John Schnatter, who built up his home-delivery pizza business into a huge pizza chain against bigger rivals, will step down.
Schnatter, who was the founder of the chain in 1984, will stay as the chairman of the board. The pizza company did not give any immediate reason for Schnatter’s decision to step down, which will take effect January 1. Steve Ritchie the current President of the company will replace Schnatter as CEO.
As founder, Schnatter has become of fast food’s biggest name, but recently he was the spotlight of a high-profile controversy when he placed blame on players in the NFL who knelt while the national anthem played as affecting sales of his company.
Schnatter is one of the last chief executives who double as the brand’s pitchman in advertising. That list at one time included Wendy’s David Thomas and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Col. Harland Sanders.
By stressing that his pizza contained better ingredients and was better tasting, he succeeded in turning the growing chain into a nationwide force against the giants in the business Pizza Hut and Domino’s. Papa John’s calls itself the third-largest pizza chain.
The business, which has over 5,000 locations around the world, released a statement that said Schnatter would continue pursuing entrepreneurial passion, education, and leadership development.
However, his title change came as a big surprise to the industry. One restaurant consultant said at a minimum it caused a distraction and he wondered if the decision was Schnatter’s choice or driven by the board.
An industry analyst said that he expects there to be strategic continuity, but that Ritchie will make his own imprint as well.
Papa John’s based in Louisville is an official pizza sponsor for the National Football League. Schnatter slammed the league in November for not taking action against players who kneeled during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice.
Schnatter said in a call with analysts on November 1 that the problems with the protests by players should have been taken care of back in 2016 when first started. Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers started the protests last season.
Two weeks later the company sent a tweet saying it was sorry and that the comments made on November 1 were describing things that impact the business and apologized if anyone considered them divisive.
The market on Thursday had closed prior to Papa John’s announcing Schnatter’s decision to step down.