By Jim Hopkins
When Tom Jurich chases the money John Schnatter gives to charity every year, it’s the ever-prowling cats that pose competition.
No — not those ones. I’m referring to the snow leopard and other big cats at Louisville Zoo, just five miles from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, the University of Louisville colossus about to undergo a $55 million renovation that athletics director Jurich wants done in just two years.
Schnatter, 54, loves U of L. He’s donated more than $20 million to the 22,000-student school over the past decade, winning naming rights for his Louisville-based pizza chain for decades to come. (And Schnatter’s a Ball State graduate, to boot.)
But he also likes other charities — especially the zoo, according to the most recent IRS tax returns for his John H. Schnatter Family Foundation, which filed its 2015 return only last week. The returns show the foundation gave $111,000 to the zoo in 2012-2015; only one other recipient — U of L — got more, among the dozens of charities Schnatter and his wife Annette support. And that was on top of $1.1 million they donated to the zoo in 2008. To be sure, the zoo was just barely ahead of No. 3 on the foundation’s gift list (keep reading).
The returns offer an inside look at how one of the city’s richest couples — we’re talking $800 million — positions themselves in a pecking order where the right kind of philanthropy is the ticket to top-drawer society. This much is clear: the Schnatters don’t give a flying fig about old-money Louisville. They’re passing on virtually all the usual suspects: the Speed Museum, Actors Theatre, Kentucky Opera, the Fund for the Arts — cultural war horses favored by more established families like the Browns and their 150-year-old whiskey fortune, or the Binghams and their faded media empire from 1918.
Instead, the Schnatters devoted their relatively modest $1.9 million to 86 charities over the four years I examined, focused heavily on helping children and veterans; animal welfare and — crucially, for anxious development officers — advancing John Schnatter’s growing interest in free enterprise and limited government.
But he’s never been old money, anyway.
1980s: bustin’ out
After graduating from Ball State University in 1983, Schnatter started Papa John’s in a broom closet at his father’s tavern, Mike’s Lounge, which he famously saved from ruin with $2,800 he got selling his prized 1972 Camaro. Nearly 32 years and many millions of pies later, he stars in his own TV commercials blanketing the air, proving he’s not above getting dirty to make a sale — literally. In a Sony Pictures marketing tie-in this summer, he played a slimed Ghostbuster pizza delivery guy; that’s a still photo, top of page. (Can you imagine Brown-Forman Chairman George Garvin Brown IV dressed as a dancing mint julep for an Old Forester spot? Neither can I.)
No matter. Schnatter’s laughing all the way to the bank. Today, Papa John’s has more than 4,700 restaurants in 38 countries and territories. Its 22,000 employees include 750 in Louisville. And his stake in the $2.8 billion behemoth just soared past $800 million for the first time. That’s a lot of loot that’s arrived relatively fast. On a split-adjusted basis, Papa John’s stock has increased six-fold in the past five years alone. The question over at U of L: How much of that will Jurich wrangle for his $55 million stadium project? Continue reading “Slime time: In the genteel world of old-money philanthropy, pizza king Schnatter is busting loose”