Pizza chain Papa John’s has announced that founder John Schnatter is stepping down as the company’s CEO weeks after making comments about NFL anthem protests that sparked a wave of white supremacist support for the brand.
Schnatter will remain on the company’s board as Chairman and founder, but will have a reduced role in the restaurant chain that he founded in 1984. the company said in a news release Thursday. Former COO Steve Ritchie will be promoted to Chief Executive Officer, the company added.
Ritchie first joined the company as a customer service representative before rising through the ranks and becoming a franchisee in 2006.
“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 the press release.
“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.”
Schnatter made headlines in November when he said during the press call that “the NFL hurt us” with its refusal to address players protesting during the national anthem, which Schnatter said was hurting sales.
The comments drew praise from white nationalists online, prompting an apology and a condemnation of such beliefs from a company spokesman.
“The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “That definitely was not our intention.”
Peter Collins, the company’s senior director of public relations, added: “We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it. We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”