For one, there's a real John behind the Papa. Find out more about John and the pizza empire he created below.
1. JOHN SCHNATTER LAUNCHED PAPA JOHN’S OUT OF AN INDIANA TAVERN BROOM CLOSET.
After graduating in three years from Ball State University with a business degree, Schnatter moved home to Jeffersonville, Ind. in 1983 to manage Mick's Lounge, a rundown money-pit of a bar co-owned by his father. He quickly revamped the tired tavern and paid off all the outstanding debts. By the following year, his father had been bought out by Bob Ehringer, the other partner in the bar, but the younger Schnatter had an idea for how the institution could be more than just a biker gang pit stop. Tearing down the wall of a broom closet in the back of Mick’s Lounge, he built an 8-by-10-foot kitchen using just $1600 worth of supplies and started making pizzas. After just a year, Schnatter, Ehringer, and a few additional assistants were selling 3000 to 4000 pizzas a week. They quickly bought a storefront next door and by 1987, the pair sold Mick’s to make Papa John’s their full-time business.
2. PAPA JOHN’S GREW QUICKLY BECAUSE FRANCHISING WAS SO COMPARATIVELY CHEAP.
The dough that Papa John’s uses for their pizza crusts wasn’t made on site at your local outpost. Early in the company’s history, Schnatter decided to mix up the flour and water at a commissary near corporate headquarters in Louisville, Ky. and ship frozen balls of dough around the country twice a week. The founder claimed this allowed the company to keep quality standards high and consistent. But it also makes opening a new Papa John’s location or franchise comparatively cheap as new storefronts don’t need to acquire the mixing equipment or labor to produce dough. In the early ’90s, as the demand for pizza swelled, the company doubled in size nearly ever year. While some franchises now cost nearly $1 million to open, in the ‘90s, a Papa John’s could be purchased for under $100,000. The company now has more than 4700 locations worldwide.
3. SCHNATTER PARTED WITH A BELOVED CAR TO FUND THE COMPANY—BUT HE EVENTUALLY GOT IT BACK.
To help his father’s struggling business and raise the initial $1600 for that broom closet kitchen, a young Schnatter sold his beloved 1971½ Chevrolet Camaro Z28. For two decades, Schnatter bemoaned giving up that car, searching for it to no avail, and even hiring an ex-FBI agent at one point to investigate its whereabouts. Schnatter had a replica built, but he still wanted his original car back. Finally, in 2009 Schnatter decided to put his fame to use to find his old Camaro. He made television appearances describing the car—gold with black racing stripes—and offered sizeable rewards for its safe return: First $25,000 and then, when that failed to elicit leads, $250,000.
Then in August 2009, his 26-year-long quest paid off. The Slone family in Indiana remembered buying the car from a young man who was distraught to see it go—but they had since sold it. Fortunately, the man they’d sold it to, Jeff Robinson of Flatwoods, Ky., still had the car. And even though he had made some racing modifications, Robinson was happy to take the quarter million dollars to return it to its original owner.
"Now there's a big old smile on my face, I like the car, I like the way it drives, it's fast," Schnatter told Jalopnik. "My wife's a redneck and she loves a muscle car. On one hand I want to put it back the way it was, and on the other hand I like the way he put it back together."
4. PAPA JOHN’S LOVES FOOTBALL—BOTH KINDS OF FOOTBALL.
The pizza chain has tight ties with football around the country. They have the naming rights to the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium. They have a multi-year sponsorship with the National Football League. They’re the official pizza of the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins. And in 2012, Peyton Manning invested in 21 Papa John’s franchises in the Denver area in his first year with the Broncos.
“It’s a smart investment now and will be long after I’m done playing football,” Manning said at the time. Definitely a smart investment, considering quite a number of Broncos fans probably order pizza on Monday nights.
The other kind of football isn’t left out of the Papa John’s corporate consideration, either. In 2013, the company became the Official Pizza Partner with the United Kingdom’s The Football League, as well.
5. PAPA JOHN’S ONCE HAD BASKETBALL BEEF.
At Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards, D.C. fans wore and waved T-shirts with Lebron James’ number, 23, and the word “crybaby” on the back. The controversial shirts also sported a Papa John’s logo. It seems a Washington D.C.-area franchise made and distributed the mocking tees without approval from the Wizards or Papa John’s corporate office.
"We're as stunned as everybody else who was watching the game," Lori Carabello, director of Cleveland operations for Papa John's, told Cleveland.com.
The pizza chain made it up to residents of northeastern Ohio with a formal apology, a $10,000 donation to the Cavaliers Youth Fund, and offering 23-cent large, one topping pizzas for a day.
6. PIZZA HUT AND PAPA JOHN’S ARE BITTER LEGAL ENEMIES.
“Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” It’s simple, definitive, and recognizable. It’s also an implied dig at the competition and their supposed inferior ingredients, inferior pizza. Or at least, that’s how Pizza Hut took it. In the late '90s and early aughts—when Pizza Hut was still much bigger than Papa John’s but was losing business as its rival grew steadily—the two chains waged an on-going advertising battle. Pizza Hut first took Papa John’s to task for the slogan with the Better Business Bureau’s National Ad Division but when that settled with only minimal results, Pizza Hut sued Papa John’s in Dallas Federal District Court for false and misleading advertising in 1998. Pizza Hut won their case, argued in October and November of 1999, but in 2000, Papa John’s won an appeal. And the following year, the Supreme Court declined Pizza Hut’s request to have the case re-tried at the highest level.
7. VEGANS CAN PARTAKE, TOO.
Pizza might not be your first thought if you’re vegan, but as long as you leave off the cheese, Papa John’s has you covered. Unlike some other pizza chains, all the Papa John’s crusts are completely vegan so anything meat- and cheese-free is safe. As a bonus, their super-popular garlic dipping sauce is also vegan if you want to add a little extra creaminess.
8. THEY’RE SPENDING BIG BUCKS TO ELIMINATE ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS.
Papa John’s hasn’t always been forthcoming about what makes their ingredients “better,” but now they’re making it known that the company is committed to cleaning up their menu. How committed? Try $100 million a year. That’s how much it’ll cost to cut artificial ingredients and other additives from the menu, primarily from their eight dipping sauces. They’ve already eliminated MSG from their ranch and trans fat from the garlic sauce, but they have a list of 14 other additives that have to go—things like corn syrup, artificial colors, and various preservatives—by the end of 2016.
9. PAPA JOHN’S USED TO BE IGGY AZALEA’S FAVORITE PIZZA.
Just before the 2015 Grammys, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea sent out a series of tweets complaining that a Papa John’s delivery person had given her personal number out to family members, who were texting and calling the singer.
"Papa John's has taken appropriate disciplinary action with regard to the employee involved. We are reaching out directly to Ms. Azalea and hope to resolve this incident and make it right,” a spokesperson for the company told The Hollywood Reporter. But the kerfuffle likely worked as positive PR for the company. Assuming you’re not a celebrity worth harassing over text messages, the takeaway seems to be that the third-place chain (behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s) is Iggy’s “favorite pizza.”
10. PAPA JOHN’S HOLDS THE WORLD RECORD FOR PIZZA-TOSSING.
Posted by Papa John's Pizza on Friday, June 26, 2015
To celebrate the opening of their 300th UK location this summer, Papa John’s staff organized to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people tossing pizza dough simultaneously. Schnatter himself was on hand, along with 337 other participants, easily toppling the existing record of 278 people.
11. PAPA JOHN SCHNATTER HAS HIS HANDS INSURED.
The founder and CEO of the Papa John’s empire likely doesn’t spend too much of his time in the kitchen these days. But the hands responsible for tossing the original dough and spreading the sauce way back when are now officially insured—for a cool $15.3 million (£10 million). Schnatter took out a policy with syndicates at Lloyd's of London, a firm known for other bespoke insurance deals for celebrities (like a similar hand policy for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, though his is for a mere $1.6 million), which covers him in the unlikely event that he loses or damages his hands.