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Controversy-Stricken Pizza Chain Papa John’s Is Trying to Get Back Into Quebec

After departing several years ago, the American chain just opened in Laval.

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter Apologizes After Using Racial Slur On Company Conference Call Joe Raedle/Getty Images

American pizza chain Papa John’s is making a second attempt to get into the Quebec market, with a new location that just opened in Laval.

Per DailyHive, it’s located on St-Martin off Chomedey, it’s the Kentucky-based chain’s first location in the province in about a decade. Papa John’s had a handful of very short-lived outlets in Montreal in the late ‘00s. It’s much more prominent further west in Canada — while Toronto has a handful of locations, Calgary and Edmonton have the most.

It joins a pizza scene already well-stocked with chains — Dominos, Pizza Pizza, and Double Pizza all have numerous locations, while even Little Caesars has a couple in the ‘burbs. Then there’s smaller options like Bacaro and Pizzeria No 900, with more of a focus on quality, and, of course, numerous independent options. All up, it’s a potential uphill battle.

Papa John’s likely won’t be helped by relatively recent controversies surrounding the chain, stemming mostly from its founder and namesake, John Schnatter. Schnatter drew negative attention in 2017 after he criticized the National Football League (NFL) for failing to stop predominantly black football players from kneeling during the American national anthem, in protest against police brutality and other racial issues in the U.S. (Statistics suggest that the NFL lost viewers over those protests.)

At the time, Papa John’s had a vested interest in the NFL’s success, as the chain was the “official pizza” of the league — in short, a major sponsor. It has since been replaced by Pizza Hut. Schnatter’s stance drew plenty of criticism, but also some praise, particularly from white supremacists.

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Papa John’s founder and CEO John Schnatter in 2015
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Schnatter then stepped down as CEO and shifted sideways into a chairman position. But that was just the start of the drama — in summer 2018, Schnatter’s use of a racial slur during a company call in relation to that controversy led to his resignation (just days later, he said he regretted stepping down). Just a few days later, reports of issues with sexual harassment within the company surfaced, including complaints against Schnatter himself. The company’s board eventually moved to block Schnatter from taking any further control of the company; last May, he sold his final shares and has effectively completely departed the company, even though it still bears his name.

In the meantime, the company set about repairing its image (its board stated that “all of our stakeholders want to save Papa John’s from John” at one point) with moves like mandating diversity training among staff to help them act less like Papa John himself. Will that help it succeed in Quebec? Maybe, but if Papa John’s first outing in the province is anything to go by, controversy or not, there’s a good chance people just won’t even care that it’s here.