Pizza News

Corner Office: Papa John's John Schnatter is Building a Better Pizza Empire

According to, “When John Schnatter first fell in love with pizza (and first obsessed over fresh dough and cheese-to-sauce ratios), he was a 15-year-old kid promoted from dishwasher at Rocky’s Sub Pub. Anything is better than washing dishes, right? But Schnatter took to pizza making right away, not just to get away from dish duty but to prove he deserved the promotion.”

“’If you didn’t do it right… then it would come back about half-eaten because [customers] wouldn’t want to take it with them,’ says Schnatter, Papa John’s founder and chairman. ‘I had an intuitive grasp on what the consumer wanted at a very young age, which ended up being a tremendous advantage.’ Whether it was putting a smile on customer’s faces with a well-made pie or writing notes to his girlfriend using pepperonis, Schnatter says the experience was so fun that he knew he wanted to be in the pizza business. That intuition and love of pizza led Schnatter to create Papa John’s, inception in 1984—when Schnatter tore down the wall in a broom closet at his father’s tavern in Jeffersonville, Ind., and installed a pizza oven. Today, with more than 3,000 stores worldwide, Papa John’s is a booming enterprise that brought in around $1.1 billion in total revenue in 2008. Even with steady early growth and increases in sales yearly, Schnatter didn’t really feel Papa John’s success until his Louisville, Ky., store was voted ‘best pizza’ in town in 1989. Then, as he saw his Jeffersonville store beating the nearby Domino’s by leaps and bounds, he realized the potential of his little back-room pizza company. ‘“

“That enterprise continues to deliver the promised “better ingredients,better pizza.” Its commitment to quality has earned Papa John’s the highest customer satisfaction rating among national pizza chains in the American Customer Satisfaction Index for nine of the last 10 years. ‘Everything we do, we try to do it just a little bit better, and that costs money. We’re willing to pay up,” Schnatter says. “I bet, on average, our competitors can make a pizza for 2 bucks. That same pizza will cost us $3-plus. But that extra dollar is the thing that makes Papa John’s different, and we think the consumer can tell the difference.’”