If you’re hungry for pizza in Atlanta, you can now call Shaq.
NBA Hall of Famer and restaurateur Shaquille O’Neal’s first remodeled Papa John’s location is now open on Georgia Tech’s main campus, near the TNT Studios where he films “Inside the NBA.”
It’s one of nine franchise locations Shaq says he is bringing his signature style to – all will feature his size 22 footprints and SHAQ in the phone numbers – as a new investor in the pizza brand. It’s part of a move to remake the company’s image after the 2018 scandal in which founder and former chairman John Schnatter used a racial slur during a media training session.
“I plan to purchase as many (locations) as I can as I can,” Shaq said in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY. “Everyone loves pizza and pizza loves everyone.”
Papa John’s announced in March that O’Neal was joining the company in three ways: an investor, new member of the board of directors and brand ambassador.
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Shaq said he approached CEO Steve Ritchie about working together after Shaq’s Fun House, which Papa John’s sponsored in Atlanta during the Super Bowl this year.
“Steve informed me that they were going through some major changes, and I said I’d like to be a part of the new Papa John’s,” Shaq said. “I wanted to be a spokesperson for the brand because I believe in the brand and I love the brand.”
Shaq isn’t new to the franchising world or marketing.
He owns a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in Atlanta and previously had 27 Five Guys franchise locations. He’s the founder and owner of Big Chicken, a fast-casual fried chicken restaurant in Las Vegas, and Shaquille’s, a fine-dining restaurant in Los Angeles. He also works with Carnival Cruise Lines, Icy Hot and National General Insurance.
“I’m just a team member, and when they throw the ball, I know what to do with it,” O’Neal said of now adding Papa John’s to his list. “We’re going to continue to help people and to inform people that everybody is welcome to eat pizza and have fun.”
Papa John’s officials said they are planning on concepts and the first commercials starring Shaq will be released later this year.
Eat like Shaq?
It’s possible that you can soon eat Shaq’s favorite pizza whether you’re in Atlanta or not.
Shaq said his “Shaq-eroni” pizza that was developed for the Fun House event earlier this year is coming soon.
“It’s the biggest size with more pepperoni, more sausage and extra cheese,” Shaq said. “It’s pretty big, and it’s tasty.”
Papa John’s officials would not confirm whether the pizza was coming soon or was in development, but Ritchie talked about the pizza with Yahoo Finance in May.
Back in Atlanta
Shaq said he plans on visiting his locations often.
“I can’t wait to get in there and surprise people, hand out free pizza and take pictures,” he said. “I always randomly pop up.”
Here are Shaq’s nine locations, which will be remodeled:
- 990 State St. NW, Atlanta (Georgia Tech location, already remodeled)
- 561 Forest Parkway, Forest Park
- 5658A Riverdale Road, College Park
- 745 Highway 138, Riverdale
- 2075 Mt. Zion Road, Morrow
- 5582 N. Henry Blvd., Stockbridge
- 205 Racetrack Road, McDonough
- 11105 Tara Blvd., Hampton
- 2176 Highway 20, McDonough
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko