The Surprising Location Of The First Papa John's

Looking for the best US city to move to and satisfy your pizza cravings (because is there a more important metric)? Apartment Guide says you should set your heart on Worcester, Massachusetts, where out of 331 total restaurants, 72 of them are pizza oriented. You might also consider Scranton, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Massachusetts; or Elkhart, Indiana. Noticeably absent from the list is Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small city (the US Census puts its 2019 population at 48,126), where most people commute almost 22 minutes to get to work, and the median household income is around $56,000 a year. While the current mayor of Jeffersonville, Indiana professes on the city website to "feel like the luckiest guy on the planet," the most entertaining thing we could find on the website was a big, yellow button, asking residents to "Pay/View Your Sewer Bill." 

PBS says that the best pizza to be had in Jeffersonville, Indiana is at a place named Boombazz, which is a shame, because it was from another of the city's establishments (Rocky's) that a 15-year-old John Schnatter first learned to make pizza (via Entrepreneur). And it was from yet another one, Mick's Lounge, (a bar owned by John's dad) that Schnatter would eventually open the first Papa John's. "My dad's bar was the filthiest, roughest, most misrun business you could ever imagine," Schnatter once said (via Bloomberg). And yet... 

How John Schnatter opened up the first Papa John's from a broom closet

The year was 1984. Forbes says John Schattner, recently graduated from college and struggling to find work, sold his 1972 Camaro to rescue his dad's bar from financial ruin. Even today, Yelp reviewers describe Mick's Lounge as a "kind of skeevy," "located in a derelict strip mall from the 1960's" with a "strong grungy factor" and "cheap drinks."

"I didn't like the bar business. I didn't like all the fights, all the cussing, the drinking," Schattner once stated during an interview with Purdue University. He did, however, like running a business. Schattner had been running them, says Forbes, since he was 8-years-old and started a grass cutting company. Of course, Schattner, having worked at a dishwasher and occasional pizza maker at Rocky's, knew good pizza. He decided to take the plunge, investing in some used-restaurant appliances and knocking out the broom closet in the back of Mick's Longue. "We were selling $5 pizzas out the back, 50 cent beers in the front," Schattner told Entrepreneur. By the time he opened up a location independent of the bar, Schattner was racking in $9,000 a week, a full $3,000 over what comparable national chains were making. 35 years after its broom closet opening (in 2019) Papa John's reported a half a billion dollars in earnings worldwide (via Statista). When Schattner declared, "I am the American Dream," he wasn't kidding.