Indiana-born pizza impresario and rumored Bonzi Wells associate Papa “John” Schnatter is an American success story. In the conventional sense, all the (ahem) ingredients are there for a completely conventional American Dream Fulfilled narrative, and Schnatter indeed talks about them a lot—you can read about the Camaro he sold to save his father’s failing tavern and set up his first pizzeria right there on his website. But the sense in which Schnatter most truly and inspiringly embodies America’s promise is this: he has become kind of queasily famous and extremely, extremely rich for doing something that he’s not even good at. The man has made untold millions of dollars, and his name is on more than 5,000 pizzerias in 45 countries, and yet the pizzas he sells taste like unusually salty upholstery. Eating a Papa John’s slice is like chomping down on a piece of oil-flavored chewing gum but somehow much worse for your breath. It’s pizza that tastes the way long-distance bus travel feels.
But while Papa John has proven better at making money than he is at making pizza, his true forte is making excuses. On Wednesday, Schnatter blamed a slide in his company’s profits and stock price on its close association with the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell’s inability or unwillingness to quash the league’s nascent protest movement; Papa John’s became the NFL’s official pizza sponsor in 2010. In that call, Schnatter said:
Players like our spokesman and franchisee Peyton Manning embody the attitude that our company was founded on and which remains at the core of what we do every day and with every pizza we make.
The NFL has hurt us. We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this... Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership.
He added that he expected the decline in sales to continue until such time as the NFL can get players to stop protesting against police violence and impunity against black men and women, which Schnatter pronounced “unless a solution is put in place.”
Besides being some notably forthright and accountable leadership on Schnatter’s part, this is just some very bold shit. Not just for the initial claim—that people are so mad at a professional sports league that they have quit pizza—but for what it elides, which is the fact that Papa John’s pizza tastes like traffic and feels like allergies.
While this tells us nothing much that we didn’t already know about Papa John or his joyless pizzas, it does raise some other questions. Papa John’s is bad, yes, but is it really any worse than other national pizza chains? What does traffic taste like? Isn’t Pizza Hut actually worse? To address these, Deadspin commissioned a scientific poll of more than a dozen Deadspin employees on the question of Which National Pizza Chain Is The Best. Here are those results for the largest chains:
3. Little Caesar’s
4. Papa John’s
5. Pizza Hut
Some notes from the voting: Cici’s Pizza had the highest total score, although that was skewed notably by staffer Nick Martin giving it the poll’s only 10-out-of-10 vote and the fact that only four people even voted on it. Chicagoland casserole chain Giordano’s received the second-highest average score, but also received a small enough number of votes to disqualify it from the overall rankings. The same goes for Godfather’s Pizza, which got the lowest average score. Also here are some other national pizza chains that received votes and which may or may not be real: Hungry Howie’s, Jet’s, Round Table Pizza, Marco’s, and Papa Murphy’s. The prospect of a version of Papa John’s that’s somehow even less Italian is very intriguing indeed.
Finally here’s audio of Mike Francesa detailing what turns out to be a long-running feud with Papa John.