Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is doing a take-out on his job as CEO.
Two months after he claimed that sagging sales at the Louisville, Kentucky pizza chain was attributed to fan disenchantment with National Football League player protests during the national anthem, Schnatter is stepping down as of next month.
Schnatter’s comments, which some claimed he was goaded into by his friend, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, as a way to increase pressure on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, caused an uproar upon delivery. Jones was angling to have Goodell removed as commissioner. Goodell has since signed a contract extension worth $200 million.
“The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” Schnatter said during a conference call about the company’s earnings on Nov. 1. The remarks were construed as anti-black in some quarters, since the protesters were predominantly African-Ameican, and the company later apologized.
The well-known Schnatter, who appeared in the company’s advertising and has his face on its pizza boxes, will be replaced as chief executive by chief operating officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1, the company announced Thursday. Schnatter is the company’s biggest shareholder and remains chairman of the board.
Ritchie declined to state that the NFL comments played a role in Schnatter’s leave, stating only that it’s “the right time to make this change.” Whether Schnatter will continue as spokesman has not been decided, Ritchie said.
The pizza chain has seen its stock price decline about 13 percent since the remarks were made and down about 30 percent since the beginning of this year. That has reduced Schnatter’s 9.5 million share stake in the company by nearly $84 million.
Schnatter, 56, founded Papa John’s more than 30 years ago, turning a broom closet at his father’s bar into a pizza spot. The company now has more than 5,000 locations.
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