The Closing Bell: Schnatter holds on to PZZA stock; brewery sets date; Bulleit and ambassador part ways; Scoppechio nabs tequila; and more

Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

John Schnatter: ‘I can’t find a better place to put my money’

John Schnatter | Photo by Stephen George

Papa John’s International plans to buy back $500 million worth of stock, but company founder John Schnatter says he has no plans to cash in on the offer.

The Louisville-based pizza company said it would increase its buyback program by $500 million when it released its second-quarter earnings report. It is an effort to return capital to shareholders, the company said.

Prior to the announced increase, the company had repurchased shares worth $47.1 million between Jan. 1 and July 27, according to the earnings report. It had $90.2 million in authorization buyback funds remaining.

Papa John’s expects to spend the full $500 million in the next 12 to 18 months, the earnings report states.

Schnatter owns 30 percent of Papa John’s stock, which as of close Thursday traded at $77.37 per share, up 8.2 percent for the week so far.

When asked if he’d participate in the buyout, Schnatter heartily refuted the idea.

“I have no intention of selling stock. The only stock I’ve sold the last few years was either charity, or we needed to buy an airplane,” Schnatter said, adding that it didn’t make financial sense for the company to buy the airplane. “I want more ownership, not less. I can’t find a better place to put my money than Papa John’s.”

In fact, Schnatter said, “I want to own 40 percent of Papa John’s.” —Caitlin Bowling

Hollis Bulleit, daughter of Bulleit Bourbon founder, and Diageo part ways

Hollis Bulleit | From the Hollis Bulleit Facebook page

Earlier this week, news began to spread on social media that Diageo, parent company of Bulleit Bourbon, and its famous bourbon ambassador, Hollis Bulleit, daughter of Tom Bulleit, had parted ways.

According to Hollis, it was not an amicable parting. Hollis took to social media to assert that the company her father founded had let her go because she is gay. She explained the events that happened throughout the last few years to her many fans and followers on her Facebook page.

Hollis — who worked for the company for 25 years as an ambassador and lived on the West Coast most of that time — says she returned home to Kentucky last year and was let go by the company before Christmas. And while a lot of her disdain is aimed at her family for not accepting her and her partner, Cher, she also believes Diageo played a part. She writes:

“This is about three ‘parties’ with one party being a single person refusing to be bullied anymore after ten years of imposed silence by a corporation made up of thousands of employees and making billions of dollars, and a ‘family’ that is hiding behind it. This is never going to be a fair fight.”

The news made national headlines from Forbes to Jezebel, and while some are quick to call for a boycott of the bourbon, a Diageo spokesperson tells Insider that Hollis and the company could not agree on a new contract. The Diageo company prides itself on diversity and was named the 11th most diverse and inclusive publicly traded company in the world by the Thomson Reuters Diversity & Inclusion Index, the spokesperson said.

Diageo says:

“In advance of Hollis’ contract expiring in 2016, we offered her a multi-year extension. Despite it being an increase versus her previous arrangement, we were unfortunately not able to reach agreement with her on this new contract. Any implication that she was fired, or that failure to agree to terms on this contract was due to her LGBT identity, is simply false. We are very proud of our long track record of work, through many of our brands, to support the LGBT community. We are also appreciative of Hollis’ past efforts on behalf of the brand and the industry.”

Insider reached out to Hollis for comment, but she did not immediately respond. We will keep you updated as the story progresses. —Sara Havens

New brewery sets opening date

Gravely Brewing is opening at 514 Baxter Avenue. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The Phoenix Hill neighborhood’s second brewery is preparing to open on Aug. 18.

Gravely Brewing Co. is opening at 514 Baxter Ave. in the former Pride Tile Co. building, Insider Louisville previously reported. The doors are expected to open around 3 p.m. that day after a grand opening ceremony.

On tap will be Test Pressing, a session IPA; Doc’s Hefe, a hefeweizen; and Power Chord, an American IPA. Co-owner Nathaniel Gravely said in an email that other beers are still brewing, but he hopes to have at least another six beers finished before the opening.

All the beers will have a musical name, and Gravely Brewing will offer live music regularly.

Mayan Cafe, Gravely Brewing’s exclusive food partner, also will debut its new food truck, Mayan Street Food, that Friday. The menu will include Mexican street corn, tacos and salbutes, and prices will range from $4 to $10. —Caitlin Bowling

Scoppechio picks up Brown-Forman’s el Jimador tequila as client

El Jimador | Courtesy of Scoppechio

Scoppechio is now the agency of record for Brown-Forman’s el Jimador tequila. The first campaign for the tequila will kick off in October to celebrate “El Dia de Los Muertos.”

“The tequila market is growing internationally and here in the U.S. at a healthy pace,” said Jerry Preyss, CEO of Scoppechio, in a news release. “We’re delighted that Brown-Forman selected us to help them realize their fair share of this growth. We feel el Jimador, in particular, has a tremendous upside for the business, given its strong heritage and popularity in the Hispanic community, with the potential to extend that into the mass market.”

Director of Marketing Kate Gray told Insider that while the agency had worked with Brown-Forman in the past, this is the first time Scoppechio has worked with the company in years. “We’re very excited by the opportunity, not only because of the growth in the tequila category but also because we feel it validates the omnichannel model of the agency.” — Melissa Chipman

Startup accelerator’s next cohort to include three local businesses

Nucleus Building, from XLerateHealth website

Three Louisville health startups are among eight companies that will participate in the next 12-week intensive acceleration program of XLerateHealth.

The nonprofit helps early-stage companies improve their commercialization strategy by pairing them with experienced mentors. The accelerator has received funding from sources including local, state and federal government agencies.

This year’s cohort, which will receive intensive training beginning Aug. 9, will include Louisville-based:

Fourth Dimension Medical Solutions: Medical software company that uses imaging technology to assess the rejection state of a transplanted kidney.

Innovative Therapeutix: Develops innovative therapeutic devices, such as a biofeedback baby bottle, to cut health care costs and to solve medical and developmental issues in infants and children.

RCM Brain: Software company that uses artificially intelligent workflow bots that connects billing systems, clearing houses and payer websites to allow staff to process claims more efficiently.

Other participants scheduled to participate include:

Boxcar PR vets start Lemonade PR

Lynsey Creech Trager and Danielle Rudy Davis | Courtesy of Lemonade PR

Danielle Rudy Davis and Lynsey Creech Trager, both formerly of Boxcar PR, have opened a public relations agency: Lemonade. Davis and Traeger handled all local, national and international media relations for the Muhammad Ali Memorial in June 2016.

The duo has a combined 20 years of experience in the field.

“Lynsey and I have each spent the last 10 years navigating the change in public relations from a focus on traditional media to the addition of social, digital and influencer media,” says Davis in a news release. “We want to be a resource to clients as they navigate this change as well and ensure their message gets out – no matter where they’re potential clients or customers may be.”

Their offices are in the Whitestone Building on West Main Street. Current clients include LEVO Capital (who owns the Whitestone Building), Dress & Dwell Boutique, Merkley Kendrick Jewelers, Jaclyn Journey Weddings, and MPerfect Design. —Melissa Chipman

Ford sales fall overall — but F-Series and Escape post gains

The Louisville-made Super Duty and Escape remain big sellers for Ford Motor Co. | Courtesy of Ford

Ford Motor Co. said that July sales fell 7.5 percent from a year earlier, but demand for the F-Series and Escape increased.

Ford said it sold 200,212 vehicles in July, down more than 16,000 from July of 2016. However, the automaker said that sales to fleet customers, especially rental car companies and businesses fell by 40,720 vehicles. Retail sales, at 159,492, were down just 1 percent.

And the Louisville-made Escape and Super Duty remain popular: Ford sold nearly 28,000 Escapes in July, up 5.5 percent from a year earlier. Through the first seven months of the year, Escape sales are up 1.7 percent. Demand for the F-Series truck, which includes the Louisville-made Super Duty, rose 5.8 percent, to just below 70,000.

The company said it also is benefitting from customers, especially for the Super Duty, opting for higher-end models, which drives up the transaction price and Ford’s profit. The average transaction price in July was $45,000, up $2,500 compared to a year earlier, thanks primarily due to “demand for high-series Super Duty and F-150 Raptor.”

SUV sales overall were up 2.9 percent, while truck sales fell 7.1 percent and car sales plunged 20.6 percent. Consumers have trended toward trucks and SUVs for months, in part because gasoline prices have remained low.

Ford’s competitors, too, reported lower sales: General Motors said July sales fell 14 percent, and FiatChrysler recorded a decline of 10 percent. —Boris Ladwig