November 28, 2012

Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Dear (Papa) John

Mr. Schnatter:

Back in August, you told some of your shareholders that you’d need to increase the price of your pizza about 11 to 14 cents to “shallow out” the cost increases the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) would burden your business with. And when the cost of business increases, ultimately prices go up, right? I can’t argue with that; although some people tried to — notably Forbes magazine, which published an article with a lot of fancy math that basically boiled down to this: The price increase you proposed would likely result in revenue for the company totaling far, far above the $5-$8 million cost increase you estimated you would be trying to offset.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled with your announcement, but then I don’t own stock in a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Everyone knows a good businessman has to maximize profits for his shareholders. And you must be a good businessman — one only has to look at the story arc of your business to know that.

I’ve heard for years that you started your business in a closet in a bar your father co-owned. And then you sold your ’71 Camaro Z28 to raise capital to buy out your dad’s business partner. Cool story. Even cooler: Later on you missed that car and had a replica built, but it just wasn’t the same, so you went about finding the original car. After a decade of searching, you eventually paid $250,000 to the person you sold it to in the first place for $2,800 in 1984 (another good businessman, obviously!). You celebrated by offering a free large pizza to other Camaro owners all over the country for one day.

But then recently you said Papa John’s franchisees would likely be “forced” to cut employee hours to under 30 a week in order to avoid having to pay ACA-mandated fines for not covering a portion of their health insurance. I’m not OK with that. You know your slogan, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza”? It’s sort of the same idea as this one: Healthy Employees, Productive Employees, Increased Profits.

Many a screedy little rant has been posted about you on the Internet since then. People sound kind of jealous, don’t they? “He lives in a castle!” they say. Well, I looked at the aerial photos of your 40,000-square-foot home and 6,000-square-foot carriage house. And although there does seem to be moat-like body of water (and is that a drawbridge?), it doesn’t seem to completely surround the house. I mean, any Renaissance festival fantasy regiment worth its salt could probably march right up onto the limousine turntable — but then again, you could just throw the switch to turn it 180 degrees and they’d march right back the way they came.

Listen, I’m glad you’re successful. You’re kind of our “hometown boy who made it” around these parts. Most restaurateurs can only dream of such success. Last fall, you celebrated the opening of the 4,000th Papa John’s by giving away 4,000 pizzas. You gave away untold thousands of pizzas during that Super Bowl Coin Toss promotion last February — on top of the 1 million you gave away during the regular season. And now you’re giving away 120,000 free pizzas a week during the 17-week NFL season — more than 2 million pies! That’s a lot of pepperoni and cheese. You, sir, know how to celebrate.

Anyway, I digress. I wanted to ask you a question: Would you consider helping fund the sort of organization your friends in Congress are constantly telling us is the proper way to fund charity? You know, through private community- and faith-based organizations, rather than government? I know you’ve been generous to charities before.

If so, Dine Out for APRON is Tuesday, Dec. 4. Many local independent eateries are contributing 10 percent or more of their profits to APRON Inc., a nonprofit organization formed to provide temporary, limited financial relief to professional food and beverage industry workers in the Louisville area who work at locally owned establishments and who are experiencing financial distress due to illness, injury or other issues (because many of them, you see, can’t afford health insurance and need to “shallow out” their medical and other bills). Please consider dining at one of the participating restaurants; the entire list can be seen at aproninc.org.

And I hope you had a great Thanks-giving. You’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Last question: Do you guys at Chez Schnatter make turkey pizza with leftovers? Inquiring minds want to know …

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou. She now works for her alma mater, Sullivan University, as sous chef of Juleps Catering.