Steve Ritchie has been promoted from president to CEO of Papa John’s International Inc., effective Jan. 1, 2018, the company said Thursday, replacing founder John Schnatter, who will remain chairman of the company.
Ritchie joined the Louisville, Ky.-based chain in 1996 as a customer service representative, the company said in a press release. He became a franchisee in 2006 and later became involved in corporate operations. He was named chief operating officer in 2014 and was named president in 2015.
"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 a statement. “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.”
Ritchie said he was “humbled” by the promotion.
“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.”
The executive change comes after Schnatter sparked controversy during the chain’s third-quarter earnings call Nov. 1, when he blamed the pizza chain’s flagging sales on the National Football League for not quelling players’ on-field protests.
Papa John’s has had a long affiliation with the NFL, advertising during the league’s games and running ads with Schnatter appearing with football stars.
In the wake of the protests, Papa John’s pulled some of its ads from NFL games and shifted to digital marketing.
Papa John’s North America’s same-store sales increased by 1 percent in the third quarter, ended Sept. 24, failing to meet expectations.
This story has been updated with further details leading up to Ritchie’s promotion.