John Schnatter has officially stepped down as CEO of Papa John's, although he will remain a chairman. Steve Ritchie, the brand's COO, will replace Schnatter, according to a company press release.
Although the company has not responded to a request for comment and gave no official reason for Schnatter's departure, his recent political comments have had an impact on the company's sales and reputation, according to multiple reports. Stock has fallen 30 percent in 2017.
Earlier this year, Schnatter blamed the controversy of many NFL players 'taking a knee' during the National Anthem for slumping pizza sales. The company faced a social media storm of controversy as many customers via Twitter and white supremacist websites declared it the "pizza of the alt-right."
The company later tried to make up for it by tweeting, "We will work with the players and league to find a positive way forward. Open to ideas from all. Except neo-nazis." The tweet then contained a middle finger emoji to neo-nazi groups.
Ritchie, 43, started with Papa John's in 1996, as a customer service representative at $6 per hour, according to the release. In 2006, he became a Papa John's franchise owner and operator, and in 2010, began serving in increasing capacities of leadership in operations until being promoted to COO in 2014.
"I am humbled to take on this role," said Ritchie. "By focusing on our team members, we will deliver the world-class experiences our customers deserve. At Papa John's, any opportunity is achievable if you dedicate yourself to putting your best foot forward every day. I'm certain our future company leaders are delivering pizzas in one of our 5,000 stores around the world right now."
At Papa John's, 98 percent of restaurant managers are promoted from hourly positions — delivery drivers, customer service team members and shift managers — within the company
"I am so proud of Steve — he has excelled at every job he's ever held at Papa John's — from being an hourly customer service rep, to a delivery driver, store general manager, director of operations, franchisee and most recently President," Schnatter said in the release. "With 120,000 Papa John's corporate and franchise employees, Steve will put the spotlight on our pizza and the most important ingredient — our team members. We couldn't have a more proven leader to guide Papa John's through its next stage of growth."
Topics: Franchising & Growth