3/14/19

Steve Ritchie's Rise To The Top Of Papa John's


By on 3/14/2019 10:00:00 AM

Steve Ritchie became the Chief Executive Officer of Papa John's at the beginning of 2018, on the first day of January. He has been in the pizza business for a long time, buying his first pizzeria for $16,000 in Hikes Point when he was only 18 years old and still in high school. Back in 1996, he worked for a Papa John's store in St. Matthews for $6/hour taking phone orders. He continued to climb up the ranks, becoming manager, multi-unit supervisor, then major franchisee, followed by a role as director of global operation, chief operating officer and president. Finally, in 2018 he took the helm of the third largest pizza chain in the world.


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Steve Ritchie grew up in humble circumstances, being the eldest of three children. His father offered to get him a job at Ford Motor Co. on the assembly line, as he worked there for 32 years. In hindsight, the elder Ritchie notes that he’s thankful his son took a different path. He first worked for Burger King when he was only 16, and then went on to work at a small shop called Pizza Man. The store got robbed 4 times, and the owner agreed to sell it to Ritchie, whose late grandfather provided working capital.

The young Ritchie worked for 14 hours every day, seven days a week over the course of the next 2 years in order to keep the business afloat. The business ended up never taking off, but he points out that he learned the values of hard work, and the fact that he refused to give up on the business for that long kept it going for longer than it should have been capable. Two years later he was working for Papa John's.

His rise to the top ended up taking a few detours. Back in 2005, Ritchie bought into a franchise group – and is still part owner of 8 franchises in Wisconsin. He worked as a consultant Calistoga – which is the company’s then owner’s artisan sandwich restaurant chain – but ended up rejoining the company full-time in 2010. When he was 36 years old, he was entrusted with running all the stores that the company owned in the United Stated – all 650 of them. Taking things to the next level, after 2 years he was senior vice president for global operations, which meant that he was responsible for the company’s 4,200 stores spread across 35 countries, raking in over $3 billion annually.

The Louisville Business First publication made a feature on “40 executives under 40” back in 2013, and Steve Ritchie pointed out his love for the company and that by 2025 he would be honored if he would get to take over the reins. He ended up being at the helm way ahead of schedule, reaching his goal on the 1st of January, last year.

Ritchie and the company’s former owner were on very good terms for a long period of time, with Ritchie stating in 2013 that the passion and drive of the owner inspired him to strive towards getting the best out of everyone. Moreover, the former owner talked about Ritchie in his autobiography, stating that he is proud of him and that he has been excellent at every job he’s held in the company, pointing him as a leader to guide the company through its next stage of growth. The relationship between the two soured however, as they entered a war of words, arguing over who is the blame for the company’s decline. The controversy that led to the outing of the former owner made the company suffer, but it continues to move forward and rebuilt itself in order to regain the lost audience.


About Angela

Angela is a freelance travel writer and lifestyle blogger, blessed with 3 beautiful daughters, 5 moody cats, 1 spoiled dog, and 1 very supportive husband.

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