American pizza sales during the global pandemic have remained stronger than most other restaurant ventures. As the economy tanks, small business owners including pizza chain franchisees are hanging on for survival.
Papa John’s franchisees have been through a living hell the past several years after the company’s founder repeatedly humiliated the brand with racist, caustic, thoughtless comments. “Papa John” Schnatter was prominently featured in the pizza company’s commercials so his downfall affected sales.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Papa John’s pizza has clawed back to respectability by focusing on human diversity, kindness, humility, and a sharper TV commercial focus on the actual pizza instead of the now dethroned Papa.
The problem for tens of thousands of Papa John’s franchisees, managers, and employees is that John Schnatter, the man who purchased his celebrity through TV commercials, won’t go away. The manufactured (and illogical for a then twentysomething pitchman) title “Papa” was created by a college buddy.
When a TV mascot like Schnatter screws up, a company quickly gets rid of him the way Subway did with pedophile Jared Fogle. Yet Schnatter continues to refer to himself as Papa to glom onto the pizza company that wishes he’d disappear from the public spotlight.
The last thing any company needs is bad publicity. But that’s exactly what ousted Papa John’s founder John Schnatter cooked up for his former company’s franchisees.
The world is in a state of unprecedented pandemic misery and John Schnatter figures it’s a great time to brag about how rich he is. Total dick move.
Using social media to gloat about his mansion, car collection, and helicopter in the midst of a crushing pandemic, Schnatter’s heartless grandiosity sullies the Papa John’s brand by association. He still calls himself “Papa” as if he is associated with the pizza chain that wants no part of him.
🍕 PAPA TONE DEAF 🍕 While #COVID19 creates massive death tolls, record unemployment, food lines, and suicides, ousted pizza schlub @iampapajohn offers views inside his mansion. #totaldickmove 📸 story: https://t.co/UmMB08x2n9 “Did you know I have my own helicopter?” 🙄 pic.twitter.com/UP7PSfk8KA
— Terry Meiners (@terrymeiners) May 14, 2020
And Schnatter doesn’t mind mocking 2.3 billion Christians by parodying the Sacred Heart of Jesus image to elevate himself as a pizza deity. God complex much? It’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t parody Allah or Buddha or any other religion.
Make no mistake, John Schnatter has been generous through philanthropy and service to community over the years. I have publicly supported him in various publications, on radio, and television over the years because of his generosity when others were lambasting him.
John Schnatter has also been a pain in the ass for multitudes of former pizza company employees that he fired or treated roughly until they left. Many of them signed NDAs upon their departure and are averse to talking about their turbulent times working for Schnatter. Forbes spoke with 37 former associates who described Schnatter’s “bro culture” at the pizza company headquarters.
Outside of Schnatter’s former “bro culture” business life, he has also irked his neighbors by flying in and out of his neighborhood on a helicopter that is mostly pointless in a medium size city like Louisville. Instead of driving 15 minutes to the Clark County airport where Schnatter’s jet is based, he prefers to spend considerably more money for a 7 minute helicopter ferry.
A helicopter above traffic in New York, Los Angeles, or even Atlanta makes sense. Louisville? Please.
After Schnatter’s N-word utterance began collapsing his career, he called me and asked to be interviewed on my radio show to clear the air. I have known Schnatter personally for many years which gave me unique insight into business acumen, his incredible drive, his feelings about those he considered enemies, and his randy behavior with some women, resulting in legal wrangling.
Schnatter knew that I would be challenging but fair as an interviewer and that he would have an unedited platform to give his side of the story.
📻 My complete interview with @PapaJohns founder John Schnatter. No topics off limits. N-word, who fired whom, @UofL, @NFL "divorce" #philanthropy Who fired Jurich & Pitino, much more 🎙️ https://t.co/cTbrabOfsZ #Louisville #business #loumedia pic.twitter.com/L1HGzQP0Qe
— Terry Meiners (@terrymeiners) July 13, 2018
Schnatter has not spoken to me since. He did respond to texts for awhile but last year sent a reply that said THIS IS NO LONGER JOHN’S PHONE NUMBER. Of course that is not true because the phone number spells out his name so there is zero chance that he would ever surrender it.
As the months click by and Schnatter awakens as a very wealthy outcast, he clamors to be relevant.
So he posts about himself and his material possessions on TikTok like a little rich girl. Or there’s Instagram like a 20 year old Ivy League sorority girl. Cool!
But his career is over. Schnatter’s N-word idiocy followed other verbal implosions where he scolded African American NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality, and he bemoaned the costs of paying for employee healthcare.
Around Louisville, his ex-wife Annette is seen as the generous philanthropist while John Schnatter is mostly seen as the ill-at-ease rich rube squealing his tires inside the football stadium. It’s the very same stadium where the University of Louisville quickly removed his sponsored name after African American players hinted that they would no longer play football if that name remained in place.
I'm going through a bunch of videos on my hard drive and found this beauty of my man Papa John Schnatter driving into Cardinal Stadium with his Camaro, burning out, and sending all the smoke into the stands. Papa's in the house! pic.twitter.com/IUfOUU9gCF
— C. Shelly 🐚 (@ballydolphin) April 19, 2020
Years ago, John Schnatter tried to prove that he could catch lightning in a bottle a second time by purchasing a burgeoning Florida fancy sandwich concept called Calistoga Artisan Sandwiches. The idea was to franchise the Calistoga brand as a fancier version of Panera restaurants. Schnatter opened a flagship Calistoga on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville.
Annette Schnatter did all of the hard work to shape the project but the price point was too challenging in a world saturated with more reasonably priced Subway, Jimmy John’s, Jersey Mike’s, Blimpie’s, and others.
Since then, John Schnatter pitches himself as a motivational speaker, a trainer of entrepreneurship and vision. Sadly, he is unable to visualize that the best role for him now is to drop the “Papa” ball-and-chain and discover who John is again.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues ravaging humanity. Even a helicopter can’t fly above the carnage. But who cares? Want to see my golden toilet?