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Back to dough after losing bread: Papa John Schnatter shutters Calistoga Artisan Sandwich project after three and a half years

by Terry Boyd

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Sources started telling Insider Louisvile this morning that Calistoga, Papa John Schnatter’s big non-pizza project, is done. At least in Kentucky.

At about 9:30 a.m., we got confirmation from Aaron Thompson, Calistoga CFO.

Calistoga Artisan Sandwiches confirms the closing of its location at Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville. Unfortunately, sales never reached a level that could overcome rising food and occupancy costs. We sincerely appreciate the patronage of our loyal customers and the service of our dedicated employees these past three and a half years.

 Calistoga Artisan Sandwiches continues to operate three locations in the Naples, Florida area.  

The Callistoga concept – an upscale sandwich shop – sounded reasonable, but never got any traction, up against St. Louis-based Panera Bread and other chains with better execution.

(The Panera Bread on Dutchmans Lane, about a block from Calistoga at 4000 Dutchmans, stays SRO around the clock, and recently completed a large addition.)

Typically, we don’t spend a lot of time on stores closing because obviously, not a lot of people cared. And Schnatter is doing quite well, thank you, with Papa John’s International

But the Callistoga failure is different because of the scale – the effort and money Schnatter dedicated to it.

When I was working at Business First in 2007 and 2008, we tried to tie several episodes of Schnatter selling tens of thousands of shares of PJ International stock – more than $50 million –  to his increased interest in Calistoga. But in a conversation, Schnatter set me straight: “I’m not selling stock to fund Calistoga. I have so much money I could fund that out of the change I find in my couch.”

True story.

Still, in the beginning Schnatter pushed hard on the concept, which he picked up on during vacations in Florida. He donated $1 million to the Louisville Zoo for the Glacier Run exhibit, in return naming the adjacent water park not for Papa John’s Pizza, but for Calistoga! He changed his bicycle racing team to Calistoga from Papa John’s.

Schnatter brought in Michael Cortino to be CEO briefly, jettisoning Cortino in favor of Lance Tucker, who is now CFO at Papa John’s. Or was the last time we looked. You can never tell at Papa John’s, which has had at least three CEOs in the last five years.

The first Kentucky Calistoga was in Lexington at Hamburg Place, but it too is closed

In Louisville, Schnatter paid Kelley Construction big money to refurbish a former Chinese restaurant into the Calistoga, set amid DuPont’s medical complex, where Wild Eggs has done so well.

But alas, Calistoga went nowhere, which proves what everyone from John Y. Brown to John Schnatter learned the hard way … there is no magic, sure-fire formula in the restaurant business.

 

 

 

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