LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BUSINESS WIRE) "Papa" John Schnatter conquered roller coasters and the sweltering Texas heat, took the mound at professional ballparks, attempted a record for the world's highest pizza delivery, taught children how to toss pizza dough, chatted in football broadcast booths, rang the Closing Bell at NASDAQ, and met countless customers and team members as part of a nationwide Road Trip this summer, all for one purpose: finding the beloved 1971 Z28 Camaro he sold more than 25 years ago to help his dad's tavern stay afloat and ultimately launch Papa John's.
Just how beloved? So much so that Schnatter, founder of the world's third-largest pizza company, initially offered a $25,000 "finder's fee" to the person who could produce the title to his long-lost Camaro, and later offered $250,000 to whomever could produce the title and transfer the car. The search was chronicled online at www.papasroadtrip.com, where thousands of people logged on to offer tips on how to find his car.
Today, Papa John's cherished Z28 Camaro is coming home to Louisville, Ky. And, as a result Jeff Robinson from nearby Flatwoods, Ky. (pop. 7,605) is $250,000 richer. The company has also extended a $25,000 reward offer to the family who originally bought the car from Schnatter in 1983, in appreciation for their help in linking the contest winner with Papa John's.
"What a complete shock to know that the car in my garage was partly to thank for starting a company like Papa John's," said Jeff Robinson who has owned the car since 2004 and modified it slightly for various races and car shows, but retained most of the original body parts including the hood, rims and tires. "When I realized this was Papa John's Camaro, I immediately wanted to get him his car back."
Robinson, who had previously heard about the contest from a friend in Cincinnati, learned last week that he in fact might have Schnatter's car. The family who originally purchased the car heard about the contest while watching an interview with Schnatter during the Washington-Baltimore preseason football game on August 13 and began searching for details online - ultimately directing them to Matt Hardigree, associate editor of Jalopnik.com, a Web site devoted to daily news and gossip for those obsessed with the cult of cars. Hardigree, who met Schnatter during his Road Trip stop in Houston in May, investigated the details himself then contacted Papa John's with the lead.
"Papa John's story was an immediate hit with our readers, who flooded the site with clues and tips on how to find the Camaro," said Hardigree. "Everyone on our site loves cars and felt empathy for John, who traded one dream for another.
"Jalopnik is proud to have helped reunite another enthusiast with his prized Camaro. Not only is Papa John's rewarding the contest winner with $250,000, but has also extended $25,000 to the Jalopnik reader who originated the lead."
The company spent last week confirming the authenticity of the Camaro, including verifying title with the Kentucky Division of Motor Vehicles, pulling ownership records, and finally tracing the "out of state transfer" back to the state of Indiana where records indicated the car's previous owner as Robert Schnatter, John's father. After the final step of traveling to Flatwoods, Ky., to inspect the car and confirm the VIN, Papa John's arranged for Robinson to deliver the car to Schnatter at Papa John's headquarters in Louisville, in exchange for the promised $250,000.
"The Camaro represents what I gave up to start Papa John's," said Schnatter. "Words cannot capture the emotions I am feeling in getting back that part of my history. I didn't have much back then, but for my business dreams to come true, I had to part with the one true asset I had to my name, and even then, there were no promises of success. I never gave up hope that someday I would get that car back.
"The foundation of Papa John's was built on my decision to sell the Camaro, and while it may not appear to be a huge sacrifice to some, it represents my roots in this business. And, perhaps it can serve as proof to others that hard decisions today can pay off for you later, if you're willing to believe in what you are doing. I'm extremely grateful for the success of Papa John's, and really wanted this critical piece of our history back."
The search has been scrambled in the past due to the car originally being described as a 1972 model. In fact, the car is a 1971 ½ model, so technically it's a '71. At some point in the company's history, the year was rounded up to 1972.
In celebration of Schnatter finding his Camaro, Papa John's will offer a free large, one-topping pizza on Wednesday, August 26, 2009, to Camaro owners. To redeem, Camaro owners must arrive at their nearby Papa John's restaurant in their Camaro to order and pick up their free pizza. Limit one pizza per Camaro, and one visit per Camaro.
Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, Papa John's is the world's third largest pizza company. For nine of the last 10 years, consumers have rated Papa John's No. 1 in customer satisfaction among all national pizza chains in the highly regarded American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Papa John's was honored by Restaurants & Institutions Magazine (R&I) with the 2009 Gold Award for Consumers' Choice in Chains in the pizza segment, ranked first among pizza companies in the 2008 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index and was named 2007 Pizza Today Chain of the Year.
SOURCE: Papa John's International, Inc.