Former Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie on How He Created a Culture of Success

Steve Ritchie, former CEO of Papa John’s, knew that he had landed on something good when he started with the company as a delivery driver making six bucks an hour. From the very start, Ritchie realized that there were several key things that set Papa John’s apart from its competition. 

“I started 22 years ago, and I realized there were two key things that [were] most important and unique about the brand: …our people and culture. [It’s an] opportunity to really focus in on transforming the culture of the brand.”

Many companies claim to value their employees, but few demonstrate that they actually do. Papa John’s, however, has a history of creating a culture that makes its employees proud to work there. One example is the Dough & Degrees program. In partnership with Purdue Global, this program pays the full tuition costs for team members who opt for undergraduate and graduate online degree programs.


A focus on programs that allow employees to access the types of services they need is another thing that sets Papa John’s apart from other pizza chains. Keeping its best ingredient – people – healthy and happy is a constant focus at Papa John’s. 

For example, the Fitness Network Program provides discounts for team members at over 10,000 fitness centers. Another program, the Anthem Employee Assistance Program, provides services that are both free and confidential. These services are designed to help team members navigate the challenges that often arise as the result of work, finances, family, stress, and other personal issues. 

Embracing diversity is a cornerstone of the Papa John’s foundation. The corporation created discussion forums called Employee Resource Groups. These host discussions that focus on inclusion training, diversity, and equity. It’s not just the right thing to do; being inclusive and embracing diversity also means opening up other consumer sectors. For example, women are behind most – 70 to 80 percent – of consumer purchasing, and spending by African Americans is outpacing the national average. Ensuring that a company is inclusive presents a welcoming place for all. 

“But what really struck me the most, my first day with the brand, [was the] quality. We are the differentiated player in that category.”

In a crowded industry like the restaurant sector, it’s important to stand out and highlight how your business is unique. In doing this, you communicate to the customer that you can meet their expectations in a unique way. 

Of course, being a differentiated player in the pizza industry because of quality means that Papa John’s had to communicate this part of its brand message to consumers. For example, Papa John’s original crust is made fresh with six simple ingredients and is never frozen. The company also uses only vine-ripened tomatoes that go from vine to can the same day. Relaying this information to consumers is crucial in showing them how a company like Papa John’s is different from competitors. 

Papa John’s has always been an innovator and disruptor in the pizza industry and looks for ways to improve the customer’s experience. This proactive approach has made it a leading contender in the food business. 

“So we were the pioneer. We were the first to launch national online ordering back in 2001. We’re still very proud of all of our technology systems today. We’re going to continue to focus and invest in the customer experience. We were also the first to launch a national loyalty program in the [pizza] category.”

Being ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting technology destined to elevate consumers’ experiences is vital to edging out the competition. Not only was Papa John’s the first pizza chain to roll out a national online ordering system way back in 2001, but it was also the first to introduce a national loyalty program. 

Not satisfied simply to sit back and survey the benefits of its forward-thinking strategy, the Papa John’s brand recently underwent a refresh. The result is a new, loyalty program that allows consumers the flexibility to use their rewards towards any Papa John’s product. 

This strategy implementation is what makes Papa John’s a long-standing leader in the industry. First, Papa John’s rolls out an industry-first initiative designed to make it easier, more exciting, and more fun for consumers to get the Papa John’s food they want. Then, the company rewards consumers who take advantage of this innovation. Finally, the company has developed key upgrades to ensure that Papa John’s is continuously building on its connections with customers. 

As the former CEO of Papa John’s, Steve Ritchie spearheaded numerous initiatives that set the company up for success in many areas. Following his example allows other businesses to do the same. 

Article Editor

Article Editor

Dale Mills is a freelance journalist with a passion for uncovering the stories that matter most. With over 10 years of experience in the field, Dale has a talent for investigating complex issues and distilling them into clear and concise reports. His writing is insightful and thought-provoking, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the world around them. Whether covering breaking news or in-depth features, Dale brings a unique perspective and a commitment to accuracy to his work. He is dedicated to impartial and ethical reporting, delivering the news with a sense of responsibility and a passion for the truth.