Posted: 6:18 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012

Papa John’s CEO’s comments spark protests

One side calls for ‘Appreciation Day’ today

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Papa Johns CEO photo
Ross Dettman

By Mark Fisher

Staff Writer

America’s deep philosophical and political divisions following a divisive presidential election are prompting dueling protests involving of one of the nation’s largest pizza chains.

The controversy began with comments made by Papa John’s owner John Schnatter that he would raise prices and cut employees’ hours to pay for costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Those comments prompted calls for a boycott, which in turn triggered a call for a Papa John’s Appreciation Day today.

“Papa John’s has been targeted by the left for a boycott, for simply articulating that ObamaCare would hurt profits and force cutbacks in employee hours,” says the “National Papa John’s Appreciation Day” Facebook event page. “Stand up to this nonsensical and illogical action and support Papa John’s this Friday!” More than 17,400 Facebook users had indicated they were “going” to the Papa John’s event as of late Thursday afternoon.

Papa John’s franchisee Mike Burke of Beavercreek, who owns one Dayton-area Papa John’s and nine in northwest Ohio, said Thursday that he intends to treat today as any other Friday in terms of staffing. Burke said he hopes to avoid a replay of the Chick-fil-A dueling protests in August, in which thousands of customers heeded requests to make a purchase in support of the chicken chain after another group called for a boycott over the company CEO’s remarks on gay marriage.

“None of us wants to see that. It just leads to terrible customer service,” Burke said.

As for the impact of any boycott, Burke noted that all Papa John’s stores in Ohio are franchise-owned, not corporate-owned. Any boycott would simply hurt employees of a family-run business — “the very people that protesters say they’re trying to help,” he said.

Schnatter, who told stock analysts in August that President Obama’s health-care program would force the company to raise its prices 11 to 14 cents per pizza, said last week that his Louisville-based chain’s franchise owners would likely cut full-time workers’ hours to under 30 a week to avoid having to offer them health insurance. The health-care law requires that businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees offer insurance or face penalties.

The CEO’s comments prompted calls for a boycott and the creation of a “Boycott Papa John’s” Facebook page that had 2,114 “likes” as of late Thursday afternoon. Those efforts prompted Papa John’s supporters to promote “National Papa John’s Appreciation Day” for today, using the Facebook page and social media notices.

A staff writer for Forbes magazine wrote a story for the magazine’s website saying that based on his analysis of Papa John’s financial filings, the increased costs associated with the new health-care laws would likely add 3.4 to 4.6 cents to the cost of a pizza, rather than the 11 to 14 cents that Schnatter claimed.

Meanwhile, Fox News reported Thursday that a Florida restaurateur who operates about 40 Denny’s locations intends to add a 5 percent surcharge to customers’ bills to offset costs from the new health-care law beginning in January 2014, when the law takes full effect.

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