History of Papa John’s Pizza


When one thinks of global pizza chains, Papa John’s invariably comes to mind. Known for its motto, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza,” Papa John’s has carved out a significant niche in the fast-food world. But how did this company rise from a broom closet in Indiana to a multinational corporation? In this post, we’ll explore the fascinating history of Papa John’s Pizza, tracing its journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of the world’s most recognized pizza brands.

Papa John’s is the fourth largest pizza delivery chain in the United States. It has over 5,199 branches with 4,456 of them are franchised restaurants that are operating domestically in 50 States and in 44 countries worldwide. And when they opened their 4,000th store in New Hyde Park, New York, the company gave away 4,000 free pizzas throughout New York City. But aside from their delicious pizza, the company is also known for their controversies. Let’s get to know more about this pizza company and all the controversy that it went through.



Papa John’s story started when it was founded in 1984 by “Papa” John Schnatter transformed a broom closet in the back of his dad’s tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana into a room to make pizza. To purchase $1,600 in used equipment for making pizzas, he sold his 1971 Camaro ZS8. He then began selling pizzas to the customers of his dad’s tavern (Mick’s Lounge) and when his pizzas became sufficiently popular, he purchased his own place adjoining his dad’s tavern. And along with his new store, Papa John’s invented the dipping sauce that is made especially for pizza and it has been one of Papa John’s trademark since then.

In 1993, Papa John’s went public and just a year after that, the company had over 500 stores. And four years after that, Papa John’s had opened a total of 1,500 stores. With the success of his company, John Schnattner was able to reacquire the Camaro ZS8 he sold to start of his pizza business.

In 2016, Papa John’s was able to become the third-largest take-out and pizza delivery pizza chain in the U.S.

Expansion and Growth

Schnatter’s dedication to quality quickly paid off. The first Papa John’s pizza was met with rave reviews, leading to significant sales. Within a year, the company was able to move out of the broom closet and into an adjoining space, marking the first official Papa John’s restaurant. This expansion set the stage for the brand’s philosophy: never compromise on quality.

By 1986, just two years after the first pizza was sold, Papa John’s opened its first franchised restaurant. The 1990s saw explosive growth for the company, with the opening of the 500th store in 1995 and the 1,500th in 1999. The company’s focus on fresh, superior-quality ingredients and a unique sauce recipe became cornerstones of its burgeoning reputation.

Papa John’s has been a pioneer in the pizza industry in many ways. It was one of the first pizza chains to introduce online ordering in 2001, significantly enhancing customer convenience. In 2002, Papa John’s became the first US pizza chain to make online ordering available nationwide.

The new millennium marked a new chapter for Papa John’s as it began to expand internationally. Today, Papa John’s boasts thousands of restaurants in countries around the globe, making it a truly international brand. This global footprint is a testament to the universal appeal of its pizza and the successful replication of its business model across diverse cultures.

Papa John’s Sponsorships

Papa Johns Sponsorships

An integral part of Papa John’s rise to prominence has been its strategic involvement in sponsorships, particularly in the world of sports and entertainment. These sponsorships have not only boosted its brand visibility but also aligned the company with some of the most high-profile events and teams in the world.

Early Forays into Sponsorship

Papa John’s recognized early on the power of aligning with sports teams and events. This strategy began at a local level, with sponsorships of local sports teams, and quickly expanded to national and international levels.

Papa John’s signed a contract with ESPN Regional Television to become the title sponsor of the annual PapaJohns.com Bowl in 2006. It is a college post-season football bowl game that was held in Birmingham, Alabama. Papa John’s sponsored the event until 2010.

NFL Partnership

One of the most significant sponsorship deals for Papa John’s was with the National Football League (NFL). The company became the official pizza sponsor of the NFL in 2010. This partnership allowed Papa John’s unparalleled access to the massive NFL audience, with exclusive rights to use NFL logos and trademarks in its marketing campaigns. The deal also included sponsorship of Super Bowls XLV, XLVI and XLVII, one of the most-watched sports events globally.  Papa John’s also became the official pizza sponsor of the National Football League in Mexico, Canada, and United Kingdom.

NBA and Other Sports Leagues

Beyond football, Papa John’s extended its sponsorship to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and other sports leagues. These sponsorships included team-specific deals, where Papa John’s became the official pizza sponsor of several NBA teams, thereby deepening its engagement with sports fans.

Endorsements and Celebrity Partnerships

Papa John’s also ventured into celebrity endorsements as part of its sponsorship strategy. The company partnered with notable sports personalities, leveraging their popularity to promote its brand. These endorsements often involved ad campaigns featuring these celebrities, further cementing the brand’s presence in the sports world.

International Sports Sponsorship

As the company expanded globally, so did its sponsorship efforts. Papa John’s tapped into international sports markets, sponsoring various soccer teams and events. This move was strategic in building the brand’s recognition and loyalty among sports fans in different countries.

Community Sports Initiatives

In addition to professional sports sponsorships, Papa John’s has invested in community sports programs. These initiatives have helped the brand build a positive image at the community level, supporting youth sports and local athletic events.


Papa John’s founder, then-CEO and chairman John Schnatter was the reason why the pizzeria encountered a handful of controversies. It all began with his statement during the company’s conference call where he blames the National Football League’s handling of its player’s National Anthem protests for the declining sales of his pizzas. Papa John’s had been the official pizza sponsor of the National Football League since 2010 and their shares dropped as much as thirteen percent after Schnatter’s statement was reported. After that, John Schnatter also lost his CEO title and the company’s franchise sales dropped to an estimated five percent. Papa John’s also stepped down as the official pizza for the NFL and Pizza Hut took over the sponsorship.

But Forbes later learned that Schnatter had used the N-word and other controversial remarks on another conference call two months prior to the NFL call. On the other end of the call was Papa John’s marketing agency of record, Laundry Service. And the company broke away from Papa John’s because of Schnatter’s use of the slur. On the day the news broke, John Schnatter resigned as the chairman of the board of Papa John’s. But Papa John’s problems ran deeper because based on the interviews done with 37 current and former Papa John’s employees which included executives and board members, showed Schnatter’s alleged behavior rangers from spying on his employees to sexually inappropriate conduct.

Fun Facts About Papa John’s

Fun Facts About Papa Johns

  1. Camaro Comeback: The Camaro that John Schnatter sold to start his business was a 1971 Z28 Chevrolet Camaro. In 2009, he found and repurchased the same Camaro for a reported $250,000, a testament to the importance of the car in the company’s history.
  2. Rapid Expansion: By 1997, just 13 years after its founding, Papa John’s had opened its 1,500th store. This rapid expansion showcased the brand’s growing popularity and success in the pizza industry.
  3. Revolutionary Online Ordering: In 2001, Papa John’s became the first national pizza chain to offer online ordering across all of its locations. This innovation set a new standard for convenience in the food industry.
  4. International Reach: Papa John’s has a significant international presence, with over 5,000 stores in 45 countries and territories around the world, as of my last update in 2023.
  5. “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza”: The company’s slogan, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza,” was introduced in the early 1990s and has become synonymous with the brand. It underscores their commitment to quality ingredients.
  6. Philanthropy and Community Service: The Papa John’s Foundation for Building Community was established to help support communities through various initiatives, focusing on issues like food security, youth leadership, and entrepreneurship.
  7. Dipping Sauce Innovation: Papa John’s was a pioneer in including a garlic sauce and pepperoncini in every pizza box, a practice that started in the early days of the company and became a beloved feature for many customers.
  8. Guinness World Record: In 2006, Papa John’s set a Guinness World Record for the most pizzas made in one hour by a team. The event was part of a celebration for opening the 3,000th store in the U.S.
  9. Celebrity Endorsements and Partnerships: Over the years, Papa John’s has partnered with various celebrities and sports figures for endorsements, including former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, who not only appeared in commercials but also owned several franchises at one point.
  10. Bad Mentions:  Singer Iggy Azalea said that Papa John’s used to be her favorite pizza but it all went down when a Papa John’s pizza delivery guy gave away her personal phone number out to family members who bombarded the singer with calls and texts.
  11. Stadium Sponsorship:  The football stadium at the University of Louisville was named Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium after John Schnatter personally donated 5 million dollars for the rights. But in 2018, the name Papa John’s was taken off the stadium after Schnatter resigned from the company.

Final Thoughts

Papa John’s Pizza, from its humble beginnings in a broom closet to becoming a global pizza powerhouse, exemplifies a remarkable story of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. Its founder, John Schnatter’s, dedication to quality, symbolized by the repurchase of his beloved Camaro, and the brand’s pioneering steps like introducing online ordering, have set it apart in the competitive food industry. Papa John’s not only revolutionized the way we enjoy pizza with unique offerings like their famous garlic sauce but also demonstrated a commitment to community and philanthropy. The journey of Papa John’s, marked by rapid growth, international expansion, and a steadfast dedication to “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza,” reflects a true American success story that continues to influence and shape the pizza industry worldwide.

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