Papa John's founder John Schnatter serves customers yesterday at the opening of the company's 20th store in China, an outlet near Shanghai's Zhongshan Park Metro Station.
Papa John's may be the new kid on the block in China's pizza business, but it is moving swiftly to grab a much bigger slice of a market now dominated by Pizza Hut.
Twirling its first dough in Shanghai in late 2003, the US pizza giant aims to open 40 restaurants by the end of next year in China and as many as 250 within the next five years.
Earlier this year, the Pizza Hut count stood at 160.
"China is going to be the best market in the world for the next 20 years," said founder John Schnatter, who was visiting Shanghai to inaugurate his 20th store in China, an outlet near the Zhongshan Park Metro Station.
Papa John's, which operates 3,000 restaurants in 20 countries, now has 14 in Shanghai, one in Suzhou and five in Beijing.
The company will open two more outlets in Shanghai within the next few weeks, one of which will be located in Phase II of Xintiandi.
The 43-year-old entrepreneur started in the business as a dish washer with Rocky's Pizza to earn his college tuition. When he was promoted to making the pies he got a quick lesson in economics. He realized that Rocky's was charging US$10 for a pizza that cost only US$3 to make.
At 22, armed with US$1,600 in savings and borrowed cash, he bought used restaurant equipment and began making pizzas out of a broom closet in his father's tavern.
Today, Papa John's is worth US$360 million, according to its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
For six consecutive years, Papa John's has been ranked No. 1 among all fast-food restaurants in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
The company's claims of "better ingredients, better pizza" has not pleased its rivals, however.
In 1998, Pizza Hut took Papa John's all the way to the US Supreme Court on grounds of false advertising and lost.
Papa John's has also not been shy about taking on Pizza Hut directly in its advertising.
But such open conflict is history, Schnatter said, adding that he has found new meaning in the word "competition."
"When I was younger, I was always concerned about beating the other guy, but as I get older, I've come to appreciate that competition means everyone does what he or she is supposed to do and does it really well," said Schnatter. "Competition will make us better."