Papa John’s founder donates $1 million to small businesses for COVID-19 relief

The founder of Papa John’s Pizza announced a $1 million donation to help small businesses stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic that has led to stay-at-home orders and company closures across the country.

John Schnatter, who founded the pizza delivery chain in 1984, announced the donation through his private foundation, the John H. Schnatter Family Foundation. 

The money will be be distributed as charitable contributions to nonprofit organizations “focused on economic recovery for small businesses and workers,” and some money will go to small business owners directly, according to an announcement.

A file image shows Papa John's founder John Schnatter attending the Indy 500 on May 23, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place in order to help halt the spread of COVID-19 have shut down restaurants, retailers and other small businesses.

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A poll released earlier this month by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that one in four small businesses said they are two months away or less from closing permanently, while one in 10 are less than one month away from permanently going out of business.

"I'm pleased to announce that I'm donating $1,000,000 from my private foundation to help small businesses survive right now," Schnatter said Friday in a statement. "Times have never been harder for so many business owners, and I understand what it takes to come back from tough financial times."

Schnatter also launched a new website, thepapajohnsschnatter.com, which offers custom merchandise, including personal face masks, bandanas, T-shirts, hats and mugs, in exchange for contributions to his charity. The pizza founder said he will match all net proceeds and contribute funds to charities focused on COVID-19 relief for small businesses.

“As economies begin to re-open over the next month, I'm privileged to play a small part in the recovery of small businesses as they struggle to survive and return to normal,” Schnatter added. “As a nation, we're all in this together. Now it's time to get small businesses and workers in America back on their feet so we can be better than ever as one nation.”

Schnatter resigned as CEO and chairman of the company in July 2018 following backlash over his reported use of a racial slur during an internal conference call on diversity training. Schnatter later sold large chunks of his company shares, the Courier-Journal reported.

Last fall, he made a $1 million donation to Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black college in Louisville.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.