Big things are happening in 2017, according to Papa John’s International founder, chairman and CEO John Schnatter.

The pizza magnate is releasing an autobiography. Papa John’s sales are expected to hit $4 billion, and the pizza chain is revamping its logo and commercials, Schnatter told a crowd of business and community leaders Wednesday night at the Louisville Palace.

John Schnatter debuted the new logo at GLI’s annual meeting. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Schnatter was invited to headline Greater Louisville Inc.’s annual meeting Wednesday night, which focused on innovation through job training and entrepreneurship.

Hilliard Lyons CEO Jim Allen called Schnatter “a perfect example of where entrepreneurship can take you if you have the will to win.”

The event itself kicked off with the call to the post, a booming music mix, Muhammad Ali’s voice proclaiming “I am the greatest” and a laser light show featuring images of a horse, the Louisville skyline, Ali and the GLI logo. It seemed less like a meeting of business leaders and more like the start of a rock show.

During the event, Schnatter introduced the company’s new logo, which is the same as its existing logo with one exception.

The new logo, rather than simply featuring Schnatter, will include Schnatter in the forefront with real Papa John’s employees standing behind him. Its ‘better ingredients, better pizza’ motto will remain as will the bottom of the logo company name.

“We are getting ready to change everything,” he said. “We’re going to change the commercials. We’re going to change the positioning.”

Schnatter was not available after his talk to comment more specifically on what the changes entailed and when they would come. Insider Louisville reached out to Papa John’s public relations team for more details.

The new logo shows the importance of employees at Papa John’s, Schnatter said, adding that for him, employee happiness comes before consumer happiness. If employees are happy, it is reflected in the customer experience, he said.

Schnatter, who is a well-known conservative, said he gives employees, including the janitor and security guard at Papa John’s Louisville headquarters, bonuses based on the company’s performance to keep them invested. He also stated that Papa John’s pays its drivers $20 to $25 an hour, well above minimum wage.

“I don’t like minimum wage where it is. I think it’s low,” he said, adding that he believes the market should dictate what employees are paid, not the government.

It was unclear from Schnatter’s statements if the drivers he was referring to are the company’s commercial truck drivers who distribute products from its commissaries to Papa John’s stores or everyday delivery drivers. In 2015, the company agreed to pay $12.3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit claiming that its delivery drivers were underpaid.

More stores, higher profits expected

Although he’s a billionaire now, Schnatter noted that there were ups and downs when he was trying to get Papa John’s off the ground. In 1990, National City Bank turned him down for a $1 million loan, he said, but two years later, PNC Bank agreed to loan him $3 million.

John Schnatter penned an autobiography called “Papa.” | Courtesy of Koehler Books

But even when the company performed well, that didn’t mean he personally was raking in money, Schnatter said. “We went public in ’93, and the company was worth $200 million, so literally my wife and I didn’t have money to go on vacation, but the company was worth a couple hundred million bucks.”

During Papa John’s first year — when Schnatter was still operating out of his dad’s bar — the company earned $900 in during its best week, he said.

“Now we do $20 million a day, and we can’t pay the bills, but that’s how it works,” Schnatter said to laughs.

This year, Schnatter said he anticipates that the company will bring in $225 million in pretax profit. Papa John’s hasn’t released its annual report for 2016, but according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the company recorded $108 million in pretax profit during the first nine months of 2016.

Schnatter also stated that Papa John’s expects to reach $4 billion in gross sales in 2017. Papa John’s recorded $3.3 billion in gross sales in 2015, according to a report from industry publication Pizza Today.

Sales will undoubtedly be boosted by new store openings. During the past year, Papa John’s has announced new stores and new development deals in Colombia, Boston, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Tunisia, Spain and Israel.

Papa John’s today has 5,100 stores in 44 countries, Schnatter said at the GLI event. In September, that number was 4,971, according to a SEC filing, and the company reported that it had 1,400 new stores in development globally that are expected to open during the next six years.

In addition to talking about where Papa John’s stands now and where it came from, Schnatter took the opportunity to promote his new autobiography, which is expected to come out on Jan. 31, according to the book’s publisher Koehler Books. The book called “Papa” will cost $28.95 for a hardcover and $9,99 for the e-book.

“I wrote the book for the kids and grandkids and the employees,” Schnatter said. “It’s how we did that, how we pulled it off.”

Schnatter went with Koehler Books after a larger publishing company wanted to make edits and change his voice in the book, he said.

“The book is straight from the heart.”