Papa John’s and the politics of pizza

(Rob Tornoe for WHYY)

(Rob Tornoe for WHYY)

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

Sometimes, political cartooning is an exercise in venting my frustrations.

Take the reaction to President Obama’s reelection by “the Papa,” Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter. A fervent Mitt Romney supporter, the Papa injected politics into the sauce of his pizza back in August when he complained that due to Obamacare, he would be forced to raise the prices of his pizzas.

Now that Obama has been re-elected, and Mitt Romney is depressingly taking rides up and down on his car elevator, the Papa has doubled down on his threat, warning that his chain may cut his minimum-wage employee’s hours to avoid paying for their healthcare.

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It doesn’t anger me that someone like the Papa, who resides in a 40,000 square-foot mansion with its own private golf course and a 22-car garage, would be looking to fill his own pockets before doing right by his employees.

That’s the American Dream. As Mitt Romney said while attending a fundraiser at the Papa’s mansion, “Who would’ve imagined pizza could build this. This is really something. Don’t you love this country? What a home this is, what grounds these are, the pool, the golf course… Republicans come here and say everyone should live like this.” No, what angers me most are people that can’t even criticize this sort-of behavior because of the ideological told-hold the right has on their common sense. The Papa’s big beef, according to a conference call he made to shareholders, was that because his wildly profitable company doesn’t provide health care to its employees, Obamacare would force them to do so, increasing the cost of one of their pizzas by as much as… gasp… 20 cents.

So the rising costs of the old health care system prevented him from giving all his employees health care, and now 20 cents a pizza will do it? The Papa should’t be arguing against Obamacare, he should be making ads for it!

 After all, 20 cents extra a pizza is nothing compared to the cost of adding an extra topping, and more than half the price of an extra garlic sauce. As Amy Bingham from ABC News noted, if you want that piping hot pie delivered, the $2 delivery fee will cost you 10 times more than it would cost the Papa to provide his employees with health care.

Instead of raising the cost of his pizza by the amount most people can find in their sofa, the Papa has chosen instead to punish the same employees that are the backbone of his wealth, simply to make a political statement. 

The Papa is also taking a chance with the business of many Papa John’s franchise owners across the country.

By going so political so publicly, he risks a blow back of angry customers in a market even more saturated than the fat in its products. Think of a state like New Jersey, where 58 percent of voters cast their ballot for Obama. Do you really want to risk making their pizza choices partisan? 

”It felt like sabotage from our own CEO,” said James Applebaum, who worked as a driver at a Papa John’s franchise in Ramsey when the Papa began to speak out against President Obama. “If the company were in financial danger, then I would understand some of what [the Papa] wishes to implement.

The fact that they merely seem to stem from one man’s political views is an outrage. “

So way to go Papa. I’m sure it won’t be hard for New Jerseyans to find another pizza joint to support. After all, there are great Mom and Pop shops on nearly every corner of the state, owned and run by people who live in the community. Their kids probably play with your kids. Sure, they may not have Peyton Manning hawking their pizzas, but at least they’re probably made with fresh dough and handmade sauce.

Better pizza. Better ingredients. Buy local.


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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