Papa John's Franchise Controller Addresses Keeping Stores Open in Russia: 'They Appreciate a Good Pizza'

Christopher Wynne, who controls the franchise agreements for Papa John's in Russia, said the goal is to "show compassion for the people, my employees, franchisees and customers"

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Photo: Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

Last week, Papa John's announced that it was suspending all corporate operations in Russia amid President Vladamir Putin's invasion of Ukraine — a move similar to those being made by numerous other international businesses.

But one Colorado native plans to keep nearly 200 Papa John's restaurants open in the country, despite the company's decision.

Christopher Wynne, 45, controls the company in charge of franchise agreements for the Russian locations of Papa John's, according to The New York Times. The American told the outlet that remaining open is imperative to him.

"The best thing I can do as an individual is show compassion for the people, my employees, franchisees and customers without judging them because of the politicians in power," Wynne said in an interview with the Times, published Monday.

He later added, "The vast majority of Russian people are very clearheaded and understand the dark gravity of the situation they're in. And, at the end of the day, they appreciate a good pizza."

Wynne first bought into the Papa John's franchise in 2007 after previously serving as a contractor with the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, D.C., per the Times. He eventually became the master franchisee with his company PJ Western and has helped open nearly 200 Papa John's locations across Russia.

Though PJ Western sold its stores last year — mainly to Russians — Wynne said the company still provides services to the stories and collects royalty payments from its franchise locations in Russia, which employ around 9,000 people.

Last week, Papa John's announced that it would temporarily stop providing "operational, marketing or business support to the Russian market" after the country began its attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24. The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

Wynne told the Times that his perspective "diverged fairly quickly" from Papa John's when it came to how to move forward.

"I have a perspective where my interest is first and foremost my employees and franchisees and keeping the lines of cultural exchange with the Russian people open," he explained. "Papa John's is worried about the corporate and political winds that, on a day-to-day basis, I cannot focus on."

Papa John's said in a statement emailed to the Times that it believed pausing operations in Russia was "supported by the vast majority of our team members, franchisees, customers and communities around the globe."

However, Wynne said it "has never been my responsibility or right to comment about the politics in Russia" despite the challenges it poses to business.

"The current situation will increase the challenges we are faced with, but I believe that what we are doing is the right thing to do," Wynne told the Times.

Despite the ongoing conflict, Wynne has plans to open 20 to 40 new Papa John's restaurants in 2022. That said, the business owner is wary of his plans being thrown off track, whether it's due to Russia's failing economy or a retaliatory move against Western companies.

However, Wynne still has hope that he and his businesses "will not fall in this category" as they continue to operate. "But those which are closing will face increased scrutiny from the government," he added in the interview.

Other American fast-food chains have opted to shutter all locations, temporarily, in the country, including McDonald's. McDonald's employs 62,000 people in Russia and currently has 850 locations in the country.

In a statement at the time, CEO Chris Kempczinski said of the decision, "Our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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