John Schnatter announcing gift to U of L College of Business earlier this year. | Photo by Stephen George
John Schnatter during a speaking engagement last year at UofL.

Anchorage resident and Papa John’s International founder and CEO John Schnatter remained stoic as fellow residents both praised him and lodged complaints about his plans to charter a helicopter from his home several times a week.

Schnatter hosted the meeting at Owl Creek Country Club Thursday night to answer questions and brief his neighbors on the facts of his plans.

“Thank you for taking the time to come out and chat with us,” he said. “There is some things that are a little bit inaccurate out there, and we’d just like to set the record straight.”

Schnatter noted that he wants people to hold him accountable and that he does not want Anchorage government leaders to give him special treatment.

There are no regulations in Anchorage regarding helicopter use, but according to a presentation shown Thursday evening, Schnatter plans to self-regulate by limiting take-offs and landings to six times or fewer a week and promising only to do so from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. He asked attendees not to listen to his words but watch his actions.

Two experienced pilots, Brandon Hammer and Will Holden, will fly the helicopter, which is a twin-engine Bell 429. The pilots tested the sound levels and, except in a few instances, the maximum sound level the helicopter reached was 80 decibels. It stayed at 80 decibels for about 10 seconds before dropping down, and Schnatter hopes building a concrete pad for the helicopter to land on will help diminish that sound.

For comparison, they noted that the sound levels of leaf blowers and chainsaws are 90 decibels from 20 feet away, and the trains that run past Anchorage reach sound levels above 100 decibels.

During the presentation, Louisville attorney Bill Bardenwerper who ran the meeting corrected one resident’s letter that said it took 10 minutes to drive from Schnatter’s house to Papa John’s headquarters. It in fact takes 15 minutes if speed limits and traffic signs are obeyed, Bardenwerper said, which elicited scoffs from some crowd members.

“I can’t wait until my time is that precious,” one woman said.

Sheryl Smith, an Anchorage resident, said she’d love a 30-minute round trip from work everyday, adding that she worked downtown for many years.

“I don’t see the necessity,” she said. “What about other airborne vehicles that might come down the pipe? I mean, this is a slippery slope, so while this may not be a terrible hindrance to everybody in the neighborhood — although I think it is.”

Bardenwerper noted that the helicopter allows Schnatter to save time, which is important when running a large company, and also get home quicker to spend time with family.

“John’s life and job are just different,” Bardenwerper said. “We are having a hard time holding on to corporate headquarters and to have a major corporation like this with somebody who travels around the world for their job on a regular basis …it’s a different situation.”

Smith chimed in that it seems likely Schnatter would move his corporate headquarters out of Louisville because of a helicopter issue.

“I understand that he’s very busy and important,” she said, “but I don’t know anybody here whose life isn’t congested, who has a a million things to do where a few extra minutes cannot possibly impact his life to that degree.”

Smith later said that the helicopter could lower the property value of homes nearby because people would not want to buy a house with that type of regular noise or that shakes when the helicopter flies over.

A couple of residents who live near Schnatter stated that they don’t mind the helicopter because it’s only over their homes briefly, but a few residents complained about their homes rattling when Schnatter’s helicopter flies by.

One man who only identified himself as a pilot said he works at night and sleeps during the day, which becomes more difficult when his house starts to shake.

Schnatter asked those neighbors whose homes shake if he could visit to see it for himself.

“That’s gonna weigh on me pretty heavily,” he said.

Although there were a number of people against the helicopter, a slight majority of attendees indicated they had no problem with Schnatter’s helicopter use.

Stuart Ray, founder of scrap metal management business The Peregrine Company, said he’s not had any problems when Schnatter’s helicopter has flown over his property.

“I’ve seen what John’s done within Anchorage since my tenure (as a resident) for 25 years. It’s been spectacular,” he said. “Everything they do is first rate, including even inviting the community here for their input. In one of the speeches, a gentleman called John’s character into question as it relates to what he’s trying to do, and I think what he’s doing tonight, including the entire community in this issue, is of high character.”

If private helicopters start flooding into Anchorage, which seems unlikely, Ray added, he is confident the city council will take action.

Anchorage City Councilman Neil Ramsey later corroborated Ray’s statement, saying the council would look into enacting strict helicopter-related regulations, and despite one person’s comments that the city should only allow Schnatter to operate a private helicopter, Ramsey said city leaders would not show favoritism to the pizza magnate.

Ramsey also encouraged the residents to listen to each other because each resident’s experience is different.

No one’s comments are “crazy,” he said.

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]