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The History of Papa John’s

John Schnatter began washing dishes at the local pizza shop when he was 15 and decided that he wanted to create a national pizza chain that focused on high-quality ingredients. After graduating college in 1983, he sold his Camaro and used the cash to purchase some used restaurant equipment, which he then installed in a reconfigured broom closet in the back of his father's tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana. From there, he began making and selling pizzas. The following year, he opened the first official Papa John’s location right next door. Within 7 years, there were over 100 Papa John’s franchises and the company quickly grew into a massive global chain. Papa John’s is credited for creating and marketing the first pizza dip. It started with the chain’s famous garlic dipping sauce, which was designed by founder John Schnatter himself in 1984. Papa John’s then expanded their dipping sauce line and many other pizza chains followed suit, making pizza dipping sauce a popular part of the pizza eating experience. And although Pizza Hut was the first to accept an online order back in 1994, Papa John’s was the first pizza chain to offer nationwide online pizza ordering at all of its locations, starting in 2002. The chain debuted their famous slogan — “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” — in the late 1990s, shortly after Pizza Hut co-founder Frank Carney became a Papa John’s franchisee and began making commercials on behalf of the chain. This kicked off a battle between the two pizza chains that ended with both companies suing each other; Pizza Hut unsuccessfully sought to force Papa John’s to drop their now-famous slogan. In 2016, Papa John’s became the first national pizza chain to remove artificial ingredients. However, Papa John’s has also caused more than its share of controversy. The company was once the subject of a class-action lawsuit for sending massive amounts of texts to customers without their permission; the case was ultimately settled for $16.5 million. More concerningly, Papa John’s was revealed to have a toxic work culture fostered by founder John Schnatter himself. Schnatter (and some of his employees) also made several racist comments, which ultimately led to Schnatter being completely removed from the company in 2018. (That same year, the NFL ended its sponsorship deal with Papa John’s due to racist comments made by Schnatter about players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.) In 2019, Shaquille O'Neal replaced Schnatter as the new face of Papa John's and also became a shareholder and joined the company’s board of directors, becoming the first Black member of the board. The company experienced falling sales for a period of time after Schnatter’s comments and subsequent ousting, but today there are still many fans of the pizza itself and the chain still operates over 5,000 locations in 45 different countries. In 2020, things began to turn around for the chain and QSR Magazine even named Papa John’s the most transformational brand of year. Today, it remains a popular pizza chain that is typically ranked just behind juggernauts Domino’s and Pizza Hut.

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