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.

Analysts question whether Papa John’s can recover

Wall Street analysts are split over Papa John’s future following its second-quarter earnings report Tuesday, with one firm saying it believes a turnaround is possible and two others pondering how the company can move on from the controversy around founder John Schnatter who is still a major shareholder.

“We believe the team is taking the right approach by proactively working with its franchisees to devise a path forward that will ensure the health of the brand and help challenged operators bridge the gap while negative sentiment weighs” on same-store sales,” according to an analyst report from Jeffries.

“The franchisees & partners have expressed their support for management’s plans to evolve away from the founder-centric marketing focus of the past, following recent negative publicity events,” the report continued. ” … While in the short-term, these changes are difficult and costly, we believe they will be important in accelerating the brand’s path to recovery.”

Papa John’s, which reported a 10 percent decline in same-store sales in July, could once again report positive same-store sales in the second quarter of 2019, Jeffries analysts stated. The company downgraded its earnings per share projects to $1.50 from $1.98.

Analysts with two other firms, BTIG and Stifel, were less certain of a recovery, according to Reuters.

Stigel cut its target share price for Papa John’s to $35 from $38, noting also that Schnatter maintains a 30 percent stake in the chain and changes may not be effective in reviving sales, Reuters reported.

An analyst with BTIG stated that the drama and conflicting releases from Papa John’s and Schnatter create continued uncertainty, according to Reuters.

Despite being ousted from the company, Schnatter continues to fight to regain control over Papa Johns. In a statement following the earnings release, Schnatter blamed the current president and CEO, Steve Ritchie, and the board of directors for tanking sales.

During the call with analysts Tuesday evening, Ritchie pointed the finger at Schnatter’s actions and said the company is trying to move on. “We are working to show that our future will not be defined by the words and actions of one person,” Ritchie said.

Revenue dropped 5.5 percent during the first six months of the year, while net income plunged 45.6 percent. —Caitlin Bowling

Drug to help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms hits market

Lucemyra (lofexidine) is a drug for the management of opioid withdrawal symptoms. | Courtesy of US WorldMeds

A Louisville company’s medication for management of opioid withdrawal symptoms is now available by prescription.

US WorldMed’s drug — Lucemyra (lofexidine) — was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May. The tablet is the first non-opioid, nonaddictive medication indicated for easing withdrawal symptoms for adults abruptly stopping opioids.

“Many people who wish to stop taking opioids are searching for a treatment that will help get them through the agonizing symptoms of withdrawal,” said P. Breckinridge Jones, US WorldMeds’ founder and chief executive, in a news release. “The availability of Lucemyra broadens the range of evidence-based pharmacological options available to health care providers, so they can manage the challenges of withdrawal and facilitate their patients’ abrupt discontinuation of opioids.”

USWorldMeds and Salix Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Bausch Health Companies, are co-promoters of the drug and hope to interest primary care doctors, pain management specialists and others, including psychiatrists who focus on addiction medicine.

The drug, whose side effects include low blood pressure and a slower heart rate, is designed to be used as part of a comprehensive program created by a health care provider.

“By effectively intervening during withdrawal and helping to control severe, disabling withdrawal symptoms, Lucemyra can help provide a starting point toward recovery,” Salix President Mark McKenna said in the release. —Darla Carter

Rabbit Hole Distillery tours now open to the public 

Rabbit Hole Distillery is located at 711 E. Jefferson St. | Photo by Sara Havens

Rabbit Hole Distillery first opened its doors in NuLu on Derby this year to host a big bash, and then, it quietly went back to work fine-tuning a few odds and ends. Now, Rabbit Hole is officially open to the public, and tours began on Wednesday, Aug. 8.

Insider took a tour of the new digs in May, and we can attest to its beauty, charm and modern take on an age-old tradition. The $15 million, 55,000-square-foot facility is located in NuLu between East Market and Jefferson streets and features the bourbon-making experience from glass to grain.

The hourlong tour costs $23 and includes a tasting of all four Rabbit Hole products, including the bourbon, rye, sherry-finished bourbon and gin. Tours run 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are recommended. —Sara Havens

‘Seinfeld’ actor becomes latest KFC Colonel


Actor, director and comedian Jason Alexander has traded in the one-liners and angry rants he was known for on “Seinfeld” with the question: “What’s for dinner?” as the “Sitcom Colonel.”

KFC announced this week that Alexander has joined a rotating cast of celebrities that have portrayed restaurant founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

Alexander stars as the Colonel in commercials for a fictional KFC sitcom that promotes four different varieties of $20 Fill Ups: new boneless breast filets, Original Recipe chicken-on-the-bone, Extra Crispy chicken-on-the bone and Extra Crispy tenders. Each $20 Fill Up bucket comes with sides and biscuits.

“With four chicken meals to choose from and each at only $20, we are continuing KFC’s tradition of providing an easy dinnertime solution for families at a great value — and there’s no better person to spread the word about our new ‘family of four’ in a sitcom setting than comedy extraordinaire Jason Alexander,” Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer of KFC U.S., said in a news release.

KFC also has introduced a $10 Chicken Share bucket for two people. —Caitlin Bowling

New dean on the way for UofL School of Nursing

Sonya Harding | Courtesy of the University of Louisville

A nurse practitioner and researcher with a focus on the care of older adults takes the helm of the University of Louisville School of Nursing Monday as acting dean.

Sonya Hardin heads to UofL from East Carolina University where she’s been an associate dean for graduate programs and a professor in the College of Nursing.

Hardin, who has a doctorate in nursing and has co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and three books, will be acting dean at UofL until the board of trustees approves her appointment. She succeeds longtime dean Marcia J. Hern, who in 2017 announced that she’d retire.

“Dr. Hardin is an innovative leader with a proven record of providing strategic direction at academic medical centers and nursing schools,” said Dr. Toni Ganzel, dean of UofL’s medical school. “She brings a unique skill set to bolster the research mission and visibility of the School of Nursing, build robust partnerships and advance the school in educating the next generation of nurses.”

Hardin’s background includes leading a three-year, $2.5 million federal grant to meet the care needs of older adults in North Carolina’s eastern region. She also was part of a collaboration that led to the creation of a device to measure swelling in the lower body. —Darla Carter

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon will be highest proof yet

Happy Birthday, George! | Photo by Sara Havens

There’s good news and bad news regarding this year’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release. The good news — for bourbon aficionados — is it’ll be at its highest proof point yet for the Birthday Bourbon series: 101 proof.

The bad news is, the angels took more than their fair share this year, as the 120 barrels selected for the release yielded a meager 39 percent. In fact, five barrels of the bunch, which have been aging since June 9, 2006, were empty.

Who knew angels were so gluttonous?

So how many bottles can we expect in circulation? Just a little over 14,000, according to a news release.

The limited-edition Birthday Bourbon has been released every year since 2002 as a way to celebrate the birthday of Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown. This year’s bourbon was chosen by Master Distiller Chris Morris and Master Taster Jackie Zykan.

According to the news release, the tasting experience is quite multidimensional. We hear everything from sweet and warm to green spice and honey — oh, and with a dash of cherry cobbler.

If you can get your hands on a Birthday Bourbon, the suggested retail price will be $99.99. It’ll be released on Sept. 2. —Sara Havens

In Brief

Former Greater Louisville Inc. CEO Steve Higdon, now the chief development officer at Private Client Services, has joined the board of directors of the Louisville Basketball Investment & Support Group, commonly referred to as NBA2LOU.

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint announced it will open its second store on Aug. 21. Located in the former Lynn’s Paradise Cafe building, 984 Barret Ave., the 6,000-square-foot restaurant will seat more than 160.

Humana filed a federal lawsuit last week against more than 30 of the largest pharmaceutical companies, alleging they were part of “a far-reaching conspiracy” to fix the prices of common generic drugs, forcing it to pay “grossly inflated prices.” The complaint builds on investigations into the drug companies’ actions by the U.S. Department of Justice and lawsuits filed by the attorneys general of nearly every state.