Shady Things About Papa Johns' Menu

Papa Johns' menu looks fairly straightforward, but there are some less-than-great things about that you might not expect. The chain has been around since 1984, so long-time fans probably think they know what they're getting. However, we've done a bit of digging to find out what aspects of the menu might surprise or disappoint you, especially regarding details that have changed over the years.

What shady things might you encounter on the Papa Johns menu? For one, some of the wording might mean something other than what you think. A few products and ingredients have changed over time. Plus, there are various quality, freshness, dietary, and monetary issues to consider. Overall, our list can give you some ideas of what to expect, avoid, and watch for next time you visit. So, let's do a deep dive into everything that might be cause for pause when it comes to eating at Papa Johns.

Papa Johns' fresh dough isn't made on-site

Even though the chain's website claims in big, bold letters that "There's nothing secret about our dough," there kind of is. While the company is transparent about its dough ingredients, it's not quite as clear about where the dough is made. In its quality guarantee, Papa Johns says that its pizza is "made with fresh, never-frozen original dough." So, you probably assumed it was made fresh on-site. However, the pizza dough is actually made off-site and trucked in. True, it's not frozen, but it's not as fresh as you might deduce from the statement.

The truth is that Papa Johns has several special factories around the U.S. that make its pizza dough. To meet demand, these factories produce and send out four million pizza balls per week to various restaurants. The factories have perfected the process and offer consistent quality dough no matter which restaurant makes your pizza. It's true that the dough is never frozen, but it's still extremely cold from refrigeration when it arrives at the store by truck two or three times a week.

Papa Johns reportedly sometimes uses unproofed or old dough

Since the employees at your local Papa Johns aren't making fresh dough daily, it can get a little old. Consequently, your pizza crust may taste different depending on how long the store has been using supplies from its last dough delivery. So much for quality control.

There's a sweet spot for when the dough tastes best. If you've ever gotten pizza and the dough didn't taste as good as usual or had a yeasty flavor that reminded you of beer, it's probably because it was made with unproofed or old dough, as one purported former shift leader claimed on Reddit. Another poster on Reddit who identified as a Papa Johns employee said if a location sold more or less pizza than usual or the truck schedule was different, the employees may have had to use less-than-ideal dough. The dough isn't optimal fresh off the truck and needs to proof for three days. However, sometimes, the employees may have to use it anyway if pizza demand is higher than usual. As for old dough, the taste isn't at its peak which can impact the overall pizza. 

The boneless wings have changed for the worse

If you previously bought boneless chicken wings from Papa Johns and liked them, you may be disappointed with the new version. Many customers have complained that the recipe change has not been for the good. YouTube reviewer Timmy's Takeout called them "the worst Papa Johns item I've ever had." Another customer on Facebook said, "Ya'll should be ASHAMED. Dino nuggets with bbq sauce."

The first hint that the Boneless Wings are different is their name change. They used to be called Chicken Poppers. As an alleged Papa Johns manager told Reddit, "I can confirm that these new boneless wings aren't nearly as good as the old chicken poppers. They switched to save about 2 bucks per case of wings."

The chicken comes pre-cooked, says another employee on Reddit, so the quality issue is at the factory level rather than local. The flavored option comes pre-sauced, and it seems like there isn't enough of it going onto the chicken during production. The new version is more like a nugget than wings, says another employee, while is also has a different breading, and isn't consistent in size. Luckily, it's not a mystery-meat nugget and the description notes it's made with all-white chicken meat. However, some customers think there's dark meat mixed in too. 

Papa Bowls are watery TV-dinner-level disappointments

Pizza bowls seem like a good idea for those trying to cut back on carbs or who avoid eating pizza crust for health reasons. However, Papa Bowls just aren't cutting it for most. When they first came out in 2022, they seemed promising. Starting at $8.49 at of time of publication, you can get an Italian Meats Trio, Garden Veggie, or Chicken Alfredo Papa Bowl. At least the ingredients are fresh, since there's an option to create your own bowl with any of Papa Johns' toppings and sauces.

Customers have made lots of complaints about the bowl. It's been called everything from "boneless pizza" to a pile of leftover pizza scraps. One complaint is that the bowl doesn't contain a lot of ingredients and is only half full. One look at the product and customers were reeling. One Redditor said these oven-baked bowls look "microwave-baked" and as if they "came fresh from the frozen department of any supermarket, lying in wait next to the Stouffer's and Banquets." 

Another incredulous Redditor said, "A 2 dollar microwave meal for 8 bux??? LOL!!!!!!!!!!!" Many others complain that the veggies make the bowls so watery that liquid pools at the bottom and drips off your fork. Maybe the cooking process needs a re-think to make these work.

The ingredients may not be as fresh as you think

Several ingredients at Papa Johns aren't quite as popular as the others. Since they don't get used up quickly, they may not be as fresh. While popular toppings like pepperoni, cheese, and red sauce go fast, others sit around longer waiting to be used.

Any non-standard sauce may be suspect. One Redditor claiming to be a Papa Johns employee specifically called out the spinach Alfredo sauce the chain offers, saying, "Papa John's has a spinach alfredo sauce that's delicious but only gets ordered maybe once a week, and it hits its sell by date 3 days after you open the bag but no one actually throws it out until it's either gone or nasty looking." Another alleged employee on Reddit claimed their store normally uses it up within two days, so this might be one item where it's best to ask the employees at your local restaurant how fresh it is before ordering.

Less popular toppings can also be a little iffy. Anchovies are one example of an ingredient you might think twice about getting. A Papa Johns employee on Reddit explained, "so few people order anchovies that the leftover is sometimes forgotten and will still end up on a pizza. considering that it's fish, it needs to be used up in a day, but not all stores will do that consistently."

The Garlic Dipping Sauce isn't made from real butter

No, the Garlic Dipping Sauce doesn't identify itself as "butter" on the label, but we wouldn't blame you for assuming that's what it was after looking at it. It is yellow and buttery tasting, after all. Instead of garlic butter, it's time you find out what you're really using to dip your pizza crust in. Not only does the Garlic Dipping sauce not contain butter, but it doesn't contain any dairy either. It does, however, have real garlic. Whew! Otherwise, it's mainly just water, soybean oil, salt, and chemicals. Essentially, it's garlic margarine.

While most of the chemical ingredients are fairly harmless, you might want to note that it contains a preservative called sodium benzoate which comes with potential health concerns. When it's heated, the compound can convert to benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Plus, some studies indicate that it may contribute to health issues like inflammation and ADHD (via Healthline). You might want to dip with caution, especially if the sauce has turned to liquid from being tucked in the box with the hot pizza.

You may end up paying for extra Parmesan packets

Free packets of Parmesan cheese are a given at most pizza places, but not necessarily at Papa Johns. So, if you're the type who ends up throwing all those extra Parmesan cheese packets into a drawer or already have some at home, you might want to abstain.

One customer on Reddit who used to regularly eat at Papa Johns was surprised in 2023 to find that Papa Johns "wanted 59 cents for each packet of parm." Their expectations may be altered given that some locations appear to sell it for 10 cents per pack, and a driver for the chain commented on Reddit that they often give it out for free even though they are meant to charge extra.

Papa Johns isn't the only pizza place charging for items like Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes now. It's happening at Domino's, too. Customers have expectations, and they're not happy with the changes at either place. Before you accept extra packets of Parmesan anywhere, you may want to double-check to make sure they're not charging you more.

The pizza recipe may or may not have changed with new ownership

If you remember what Papa Johns pizza tasted like before 2019, it might be different than what the chain is producing now — or it might not. Nobody can seem to agree — not even those who should know best.

The old and new owners of Papa Johns disagree about whether the pizza recipe is different. The company changed hands in 2018 after founder John Schnatter used inappropriate racial slurs during a business call. In 2019, Schnatter, told WDRB News, "I've had over 40 pizzas in the last 30 days, and it's not the same pizza. It's not the same product. It doesn't taste as good. The way they're making the pizza is just not fundamental to what makes a Papa John's pizza." However, when CNBC interviewed the new CEO, Rob Lynch, he said, "We haven't made any changes to the way we make it or to what goes into our products."

So, what's the truth about Papa Johns' pizza recipe? Customers can't agree about whether it changed or not. Some swear it hasn't changed, while others say the flavor went way downhill with the change in CEOs. There are a lot of people who think the sauce, specifically, tastes sweeter. One customer said the pies were different when freshly cooked and the leftovers were equally disappointing.

The veggies aren't freshly sliced

Regarding its motto of "better ingredients, better pizza" Papa Johns seems to be backsliding on what that means. Papa Johns used to boast about slicing its veggies fresh daily, but not anymore. For the past few years, employees at your local chain have stopped prepping this component. So, if you've noticed a change in vegetable topping quality at Papa Johns in the last few years, the transition to pre-sliced veggies is likely to blame.

Papa Johns' employees started saying their locations were making the switch from store-sliced to pre-sliced veggies around 2020 and 2021. Now, the veggies come to the store pre-cut and bagged. A customer commented on Reddit saying, "While that saves on prep time, from my experience at Domino's pre-packaged veggies are garbage. .... They're a lot worse to work with [than] just prepping veggies." One Papa Johns employee wrote on Reddit that the pre-sliced veggies "get very mushy fast and gross." Another purported employee on Reddit said, "the tomatoes smell fermented, even the fresh straight out of an unopened package ones."

Papa Johns' New York Style pizza really isn't

Papa Johns has an XL New York Style Crust on its menu, however, customers aren't convinced that it's really a New York style pizza. One person wrote on Reddit that it "didn't seem all that different from the chain's regular pizza — it's just a little thinner with less end crust and is cut into fewer, bigger slices." Another Redditor commented: "Nothing New York about it really. It's just a standard pan pizza pretty much that's just a tad thinner." Yet, another Redditor described it as being "thick and airy. Not exactly like the typical Papa John's pizza, but it sure wasn't what I was expecting."

While Papa Johns' New York Style pizzas have a thin crust with large slices, these elements aren't the defining characteristics that make a New York Style pizza unique. The dough, sauce, and toppings matter, too. However, an employee explained to Reddit that the NY Style pizzas at Papa Johns is "basically a 16" thin crust slapped out by hand. The same thing we do for the shaqaroni." It doesn't use a special high-gluten flour to get the right chewy crust texture, doesn't have a traditionally New-York-style pizza sauce, and doesn't always have classic toppings. However, the fact that Papa Johns is now offering cuppy pepperoni for NY Style Crusts is a step in the right direction.

Your pizza may end up costing more than you think

While the prices on the Papa Johns' menu seem straightforward, you may get some surprise charges if you order delivery. Some are fees while others may be math errors on the app.

Papa Johns charges a delivery fee for its pizzas, however, this amount doesn't go to pay the delivery drivers, who also expect a tip. The delivery fee varies between locations and can be as high as $5, which may even be higher than the tip. Some of the delivery fee goes toward mileage reimbursement for the drivers, while some of the remainder goes toward the insurance the company has to keep on its drivers.

You may also want to double-check your app's math when making a payment. One customer found the app calculated the tip at 40%, 53%, or 66% instead of 15%, 20%, or 25%. To be safe, you might want to opt to always enter a custom amount instead. In 2016, one Illinois customer even sued Papa Johns for taxing the delivery fee.