The Papa John’s location in Clinton has permanently closed, with company officials describing it as a “business decision” and saying they were scouting other locations in the general area for a potential move.
A “CLOSED” sign was posted to the front of the Papa John’s location, at 933 Sunset Ave., thanking customers for their business and saying “we hope to serve you at another location.”
Calls to the pizza place on Thursday just rang inside the store, with no outgoing voicemail message. Several Papa John’s employees, still wearing uniforms, were gathered outside the rear of the business on Thursday morning and into the afternoon, spraying off equipment, cleaning and doing inventory-related tasks.
One of the delivery drivers said that a manager told employees the store had lost $120,000 over the course of the past three years. “The operating expenses exceeded what was coming in,” he remarked.
As he was discussing the closure, a few other employees approached.
“We’re not at liberty to discuss anything other than to say we’re sad to leave,” one employee said.
When asked if employees would be transferred to other locations, she replied “some.”
“We’re sad to leave,” another employee echoed.
Employees at the store referred inquiries to Arlene Petokas, vice president of human resources and administration for BLD Brands, LLC. When reached, Petokas, based in Orange, Calif., said the closure was “a business decision,” declining to go into details.
“That particular location is closed,” Petokas stated of the Sunset Avenue site, noting the closure was actually effective this past Sunday, April 22. “Everyone was offered transfers. We are looking at other locations. We could stay within the county.”
When asked if any specific sites were being considered as part of the move, and whether they would be in Sampson County, Petokas said she was unsure.
According to BLD Brands’ website, Serazen, which is under the BLD Brands umbrella, is a large franchisee of Papa John’s and Hardee’s. As of Thursday, the site noted that Serazen owns and operates 73 Papa John’s in Las Vegas, Ohio and North Carolina, and 50 Hardee’s in North and South Carolina. Petokas said those numbers have changed slightly.
The Sunset Avenue location is the only Papa John’s in Sampson County and a search showed that the location has already been deleted from Papa John’s locations database. That leaves the nearest Papa John’s locations in Mount Olive, Stedman, Fayetteville and Goldsboro, according to the company.
Papa John’s, based in Louisville, Ky., was previously the NFL’s official pizza sponsor but company officials said in late February that the pizza chain and the NFL agreed to end the relationship, which became strained last year when its founder John Schnatter criticized NFL leadership over national anthem protests by players. The pizza chain’s stock plummeted after the NFL sponsorship came to an end. Pizza Hut was picked up by the NFL soon thereafter.
Schnatter blamed slowing sales growth at Papa John’s on the outcry surrounding football players kneeling during the national anthem. The company later apologized for the remarks and Schnatter stepped down as CEO at the end of last year.
According to Papa John’s website, there are over 3,400 locations in the United States and Canada. There have been several abrupt closures of Papa John’s reported this year. Earlier this month, all 5 of the Papa John’s restaurants in Rochester, N.Y., closed without warning.
However, Petokas said Thursday the decision involving the Clinton location was an isolated one, and not indicative of a larger issue.
The Papa John’s closure in Clinton is another blow to Sampson County businesses this week. The Brooks Brothers Factory Outlet in Garland, credited by town officials with helping putting Garland on the map, officially closed Wednesday.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.