The pizza restaurant company Papa John’s International will open a 200-employee global headquarters in metro Atlanta next year at a site to be determined. The deal, announced Sept. 17 by the company and Gov. Brian Kemp, involves “government incentives” that the state would not disclose.
The company’s executive headquarters is currently in the metro area of its original hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and it will maintain a headquarters there for certain departments after the metro Atlanta move, according to a spokesperson. Atlanta, Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are frequently in contention for such headquarters. Papa John’s CEO and President Rob Lynch previously led the fast-food chain Arby’s, which is headquartered in Sandy Springs and whose parent company recently received tax incentives for an office expansion there.
Papa John’s is rebuilding its image after disastrous controversies about politics and racism involving the company’s founder and namesake John Schnatter, which also caused a bitter corporate leadership struggle. The metro Atlanta move is pitched partly as helping with that rebuilding.
In 2017, Schnatter — then the company’s CEO and public face in commercials — criticized the National Football League for not stopping players from kneeling during the national anthem in a controversial silent protest related to the Black Lives Matter movement over racism and police brutality, which Schnatter claimed was hurting pizza sales. His stance drew online support from White racist groups and ended an NFL sponsorship deal. In 2018, Schnatter used a racial slur during an internal conversation with public relations consultants attempting to help him and the company deal with the controversy. He was forced out in the ensuing controversy, but still maintains an ownership share.
In press releases about the metro Atlanta move, the company said the region’s diversity was among the reasons for the decision. The Papa John’s department of “diversity, equity and inclusion” is among those that will move to the area.
Papa John’s said in a press release that the move is “a key element of a broader reorganization of corporate functions, reflecting the company’s ongoing transformation into a brand and culture that can effectively and efficiently deliver on the company’s purpose, values and strategic business priorities.”
“These changes to our corporate structure and team mark another milestone in Papa John’s ongoing transformation into a more innovative brand with a culture that is focused on diversity, inclusion and winning,” said Marvin Boakye, the company’s “chief people and diversity officer,” in a press release.
“Papa John’s already has a major corporate presence in Georgia and metro Atlanta, and we know the many strengths of the region,” said Lynch, the CEO and president, in the press release. “So, we’re especially excited to be expanding here, as part of our long-term growth plans. We owe our record momentum over the past nine months to the commitment, dedication, and innovation of our team members. Our ability to tap into the diversity and talent of the metro Atlanta area will help us accelerate that growth.”
The company aims to open the headquarters by summer 2021. “The company is currently in discussions with a number of potential office locations throughout the metro Atlanta area and expects to complete the selection process by the end of 2020,” said spokesperson Jeff Matthews. “The company intends to create 200 positions but hasn’t provided more details on the eventual size of its office. As you can imagine, one of the many considerations behind the selection of metro Atlanta was government incentives, which will depend upon final hiring plans.”
The Georgia Department of Economic Development, which is brokering the move, cannot comment on incentives “while the project is still active,” said spokesperson Marie Hodge Gordon.
Founded in 1984, Papa John’s currently has about 5,300 locations around the world and employs about 2,500 Georgians, according to the state.
The metro Atlanta headquarters will include the company’s offices of “menu innovation”; marketing; “customer experience”; human resources; diversity, equity and inclusion; communications; and “development functions,” according to press releases. The CEO will be based in the new headquarters but will travel weekly to Kentucky, according to the company. The company characterizes the metro Atlanta headquarters as more of an expansion than a move.
The Kentucky office will remain the headquarters of the company’s IT, supply chain and legal teams. The company will maintain an international operations headquarters in metro London, U.K.
Update: This story has been updated to clarify that the company considers its Kentucky office to be a “headquarters” and the metro Atlanta headquarters as an “expansion.”