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Why Papa John's former CEO just bought a restaurant chain that serves 60 different wines

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·3 min read

Former Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie has put himself back into the pressure cooker that is the restaurant industry.

Ritchie and his wife Melissa (a long-time Papa John’s executive, too) launched Endeavor Restaurant Group last week, and have wasted no time in making their first purchase. The pair bought craft wine and tapas concept LouVino Restaurant and Wine Bars for an undisclosed sum. LouVino launched in 2014, and has since expanded to five locations spanning Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. It serves more than 60 wines by the glass.

While Ritchie says the pandemic is likely to continue weighing on the restaurant industry for the foreseeable future, it felt like the right time to begin building a portfolio of brands to potentially expand.

“You have got to have a passion and a belief that this thing will turn. I believe it is. I think we are seeing great things on the health front with the roll-out of all the vaccines and we are just looking for restaurants that are really differentiated and that make a difference. I think consumers are looking to get back into restaurants as we get through hopefully the spring and summer,” Ritchie told Yahoo Finance Live on Monday.

Decades of experience will be put to the test

Suffice it to say, Ritchie enters his new venture with considerable restaurant industry experience.

Ritchie has been in the restaurant industry for 25 years, starting at Papa John’s as a customer service rep. He led Papa John’s as CEO for nearly two years before exiting in August 2019 amid a boardroom battle with ousted founder John Schnatter and activist investor Jeff Smith of Starboard Value.

Steve Ritchie, then-CEO of Papa John's International Inc., speaks during an interview on CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Steve Ritchie, then-CEO of Papa John's International Inc., speaks during an interview on CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Ritchie’s decades of experience will surely be put to the test at his new business.

The National Restaurant Association said earlier this month in a new survey that 110,000 restaurants have permanently closed this year. That was up by 10,000 from a survey taken in September. The survey found only 48% of these now former restaurant owners would stay in the industry in any form in the months or years ahead.

But with Congress failing to pass the Restaurants Act in the latest stimulus bill, thousands more restaurants in the U.S. stand to go belly-up in coming months. The Restaurants Act would have provided $120 billion in relief to restaurants with fewer than 20 locations that are not publicly traded.

“I see the various numbers, 100,000 restaurants have already gone out of business. I would have thought that would have indicated that help is needed,” former Dunkin’ Brands chairman and CEO Nigel Travis recently said on Yahoo Finance Live.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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