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Papa John's CEO: Franchisees think our brand is 'pandemic proof'

About to embark on year two of leading Papa John’s (PZZA) as CEO, Rob Lynch will still have a lot on his plate.

The tasks are plentiful.

They range from keeping the momentum going at a brand that has gone from a PR nightmare caused by its founder (before Lynch arrived) that drove sales down to one producing epic monthly sales gains and ensuring new innovations hit the market amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But finally, one key component to Lynch’s tenure is about to kick into gear — one that should excite investors even further.

Supercharged new restaurant openings around the globe.

“Although new development slowed this year given the global dynamic around governments making it harder to open up stores and restaurants right now just from a pure getting permits through and working with local governments. But as we come out of that and the real estate market shakes out, we feel like we are going to have a unique opportunity to accelerate unit development,” Lynch tells Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

Lynch was announced as Papa John’s CEO on August 27, 2019.

While Lynch declined to put a number on how many new restaurants he will open for the rest of 2020 and 2021, he sounded like a CEO ready to toss gas on a budding development fire.

“This year is still going to be a challenge for unit development just because of the pandemic and the geographies with the government regulations. But 2021 and beyond, it is my number one priority to make sure that we’re growing our footprint both domestically as well as internationally,” Lynch explained. “There is a lot of excitement from the perspective of franchisees about getting into the brand. They look at it as pandemic proof. They look at it as a compliment to their other businesses they may already operate. We think we will have a lot of partners coming that want to build into our brand and invest the resources in our brand. So lots of growth ahead.”

In this Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 photo a job posting for a Papa John's Pizza restaurant is seen in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 photo a job posting for a Papa John's Pizza restaurant is seen in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

It makes sense for Lynch to plow ahead with a sense of purpose on the development front.

Not only has Papa John’s gotten its groove back under Lynch (July same-store sales in North America and internationally rose an astounding 30.3% and 13.9%, respectively, families opt for pizza over burgers during COVID-19) — meaning franchisees are making money again — the company has significant opportunities to grow. In China, the company only has 200 or so restaurants, well behind Pizza Hut’s colossal 2,000-plus. As for Australia (a big market for fast-food companies), Papa John’s doesn’t operate there right now.

The company likely has growth potential in North America as well. Papa John’s operates 3,284 restaurants in North America — Domino’s Pizza (DPZ) has nearly 6,200 restaurants in the U.S. while Pizza Hut clocks in at more than 7,400 domestically.

Amidst all the businesses, it’s good to see Lynch has kept his sense of humor.

“This first year [as CEO] has gone exactly how I would have foreseen when I came in. You know, the global pandemic and everything. I know we were all predicting that. So, it has been a really interesting first year as CEO of Papa John’s,” Lynch jokes.

The joke may continue to be on the Papa John’s bears if Lynch goes ape with new store openings over the next year of his CEO tenure.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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