Thursday, May 30, 2024

Papa John founder holding Florida fundraiser for Robinson

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson started delivering pizzas for $8 an hour at Papa John’s after leaving a higher-paying post at a furniture manufacturer, he wrote in his biography last year. Now, the founder of Papa John’s International is hosting a fundraiser to support Robinson’s bid to become North Carolina’s next governor.

John Schnatter, who calls himself “The Papa John,” has scheduled the gathering for Feb. 19 at his Naples, Florida home, according to an invitation acknowledged by Robinson’s campaign. A co-host for the event is Alfie Oakes, who owns a 3,500-acre farming business in Florida and a 75,000-square retail supermarket in Naples.

Schnatter started the pizza business in the back of his father’s tavern in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1984. It grew into the fourth-largest U.S. pizza chain, with Schattner’s net worth at times exceeding $1 billion, according to reports.

In 2018, Schattner stepped down as CEO and later as chairman after controversies involving his criticism of the NFL’s handling of player protests during the playing of the national anthem and his use of a racial epithet in a conference call with the company’s marketing agency. Within two years, he had sold his 30% stake in Papa John’s International, which now operates more than 5,000 locations in 45 countries and has a $2.4 billion market value.

Guests to the Robinson fundraiser are being asked to donate from $1,000 to $12,800 for two tickets. Other hosts include Benny Yount, who owns Hickory-based Paramount Automotive Group, which has several auto dealerships in Hickory, Asheville and Charlotte; and John Snider, chairman of Fort Mill, S.C.-based Snider Fleet Solutions, one of the largest U.S. commercial tire distributors.

Robinson raised nearly $3.4 million in the second half of 2023, the Associated Press reported last week. He leads the polls for the March GOP primary over Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham and State Treasurer Dale Folwell. The winner of the GOP primary is expected to face Attorney General Josh Stein, who has a large polling lead over veteran judge Michael Morgan.

Robinson was elected lieutenant governor in 2020 after gaining media attention for a speech supporting gun rights. He had not run for political office previously.

Out-of-state fundraisers are common for North Carolina candidates of both political parties.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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