JEFFERSONVILLE — More than 30 years after he started making pizzas in a closet in his father’s Jeffersonville bar, John Schnatter is stepping down as CEO of Papa John's Pizza.
As of Jan. 1, Schnatter will serve as chairman and current president Steve Ritchie will fill the role of CEO, according to a press release.
The move comes after controversial remarks surrounding Schnatter. In November during a phone call Schnatter said lower NFL viewership was a result of NFL leaders allowing players to protest during the National Anthem, and was to blame for slumping pizza sales. The call was leaked and met with outrage on social media. Papa John’s has been the official pizza sponsor of the NFL since 2010.
An apologetic tweet came from the company two weeks after the call was released, but there was still damage; the company's stock price has dropped 30 percent so far this year.
The press release issued by Papa John’s does not cite why Schnatter is stepping down.
Though his legacy as CEO may be muddied, the impact he has had on his hometown is clear.
“He’s highly successful. Just because he’s stepping down as CEO doesn’t mean I or anyone else should think any less of him,” Bill Burns, Jeffersonville Parks Authority's board president, said.
The paths of Burns and Schnatter crossed in August, when Schnatter donated $800,000 toward the restoration of the Nachand Fieldhouse.
“Recently, John’s made an impact with the restoration of Nachand Fieldhouse with his contribution,” Burns said. “It will mean that [the fieldhouse] will exist for another 80 years for the community to enjoy and use.” The fieldhouse was subsequently named the John H. Schnatter Nachand Fieldhouse.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore recalled growing up with Schnatter, who was the same age as Moore’s older brother.
According to Moore, Schnatter’s contribution to the fieldhouse plays a major role in revitalizing a building that is “sometimes the difference between a kid going down the right path and the wrong one.”
"It’s kind of a safe haven for some of the kids that are in downtown and not as privileged as other ends of the city. For a kid, they know they can go to the fieldhouse at 3:30 after school and play games or basketball, have some adult supervision until their parents or grandparents pick them up. It's a big part of Jeffersonville," Moore said, adding "[John] has stories of playing in that fieldhouse."
With his name on the fieldhouse, Schnatter will literally leave a lasting mark on Jeffersonville. But, Moore says the pizza icon has also left a legacy.
“I think John has inspired a lot of people to go out and give something a try and challenge [themselves] to succeed,” Moore said. “The man came from pretty humble means… I think his story is in an inspiration for a lot of people. He had an idea and started in the back closet of Mick’s Lounge, his dad’s bar at the time, started making pizza and lo and behold he’s turned a closet pizza joint into a billion dollar franchise.”