What Papa John’s, Apple and Google have in common. (Hint: many of you own one)

Boulevard focuses on news about some of Louisville’s biggest employers, nonprofits, and cultural institutions. This is one in an occasional series about them.

John Schnatter

Some of the most successful U.S. companies got launched in garages, and Papa John’s story begins there in 1984 — sort of. It involves a car, specifically founder John Schnatter‘s prized gold 1972 Camaro Z28. After graduating from Ball State University with a business degree, Schnatter sold it for $2,800 to help save his father’s tavern, Mick’s Lounge, from bankruptcy.

“He knocked down the broom closet of Mick’s Lounge,” the company says on its history page, “purchased used restaurant equipment, and began delivering pizzas out of the back of the bar.”

Schnatter's Camaro
The famous car.

Only a year later, Schnatter opened his first Papa John’s in Jeffersonville, Ind. More than 30 years later, it’s now a fast-food giant with 4,700 restaurants worldwide — including more than 1,200 international restaurants in 37 countries and territories. It has 750 employees in Louisville, and another 21,000 across the globe. The company went public in 1993.

The company’s success has made Schnatter — born Nov. 23, 1961, in Jeffersonville — one of Kentucky’s wealthiest residents. His 10.5 million shares were worth well over $600 million in June 2016, enough to buy naming rights to 55,000-seat Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville.

And, of course, there’s his famous Anchorage home: a 40,000-square-foot castle on 16 acres. It features a 22-car underground garage (complete with an office for valet parking, a car wash and even a motorized turn able to move limousines), and a 6,000-square-foot detached carriage house, according to Curbed. The real estate site called it “utterly bonkers,” and posted this aerial photo:

John Schnatter's house

The photo doesn’t appear to show the helicopter landing pad WDRB said spurred neighborhood noise complaints last month.

And the prized Camaro? In 2009, Papa John’s announced a $250,000 reward for the car, leading to its recovery. A replica now sits in the lobby of Papa John’s headquarters at 2002 Papa John’s Blvd.

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