Papa Johns pizza is about to lose its namesake. Company CEO and founder John Schnatter announced Thursday that he plans to step down next month. On January 1, Schnatter will be replaced as CEO by current Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie.
This will actually be the second time Schnatter has stepped down as CEO. He did so in 2005 because of a decrease in sales, only to return three years later. Schnatter founded Papa Johns pizza in 1984. It has since grown into one of the most popular pizza chains and a nationwide chain. He will continue to own 25% of the company and serve as chairman.
It remains unclear whether Schnatter stepping down is related to controversial comments he made about the company’s sponsorship of the NFL last month. A statement from Papa Johns says Schnatter will step down to “pursue his personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development, and education.”
In November, Schnatter criticized NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem as a form of social protest. He blamed slumping pizza sales on Papa Johns’ association with the NFL as an official sponsor amidst the protests.
Such comments were taken as being against the players who protested. As a result, an alt-right website called The Daily Stormer proclaimed Papa Johns as the “official pizza of the alt-right.” That led to a boycott of Papa Johns that forced Schnatter and the company to release a statement saying that they didn’t want such hate groups buying their pizza. Sales dropped more than 4% during this time.
The timing of Schnatter’s announcement that he’s stepping down is too coincidental not to be related to the recent controversy. The fallout was quite significant and it remains to be seen whether Schnatter disassociating himself from the company will make a difference.