Papa John's is borrowing a tactic from Chipotle, and it might give the chain a competitive advantage

Papa John's is borrowing a tactic from Chipotle, and it might give the chain a competitive advantage
Papa John's
  • Papa John's just introduced Papa Bowls made of pizza toppings without crust.
  • Customers can create their own bowls, reminiscent of Chipotle and Subway.

Papa John's just announced Papa Bowls, crustless pizza dishes that can be customized.

The unorthodox variation on pizza might give Papa John's a key competitive advantage, according to restaurant industry analyst and CEO of Kalinowski Equity Associates Mark Kalinowski.

The bowls, which are essentially pizza toppings without the pizza, come in three varieties: Italian meats trio, chicken alfredo, and garden veggie.

"Most of the national chains don't sell pizza bowls, so they will help Papa John's differentiate itself from the competition," Kalinowski told Insider in a phone call. Without a direct analog on other menus, the dish could give Papa John's a competitive advantage, Kalinowski said.

It's also a way to harness a major trend that's swept across fast food, particularly in the last decade. Customers can customize their Papa Bowls from the menu's options of "crisp vegetables, juicy meats, melty cheeses, and delectable signature sauces," the brand said in a press release.


The "create-your-own" model exploded across the industry, and is credited with much of the success of Chipotle, Starbucks, and Subway. This model remains highly popular and profitable despite inflation, with Starbucks customers keeping demand as prices rise, and high-income Chipotle customers visiting the chain more frequently than ever.

Papa Bowls are just the latest menu innovation from Papa John's. CEO Rob Lynch has pushed new menu options that test the limits of what pizza is and what a pizza chain can sell since he took over in 2019, Kalinowski said, pointing to examples of epic stuffed crust pizza and Papadias.

Like the Papadias, Papa Bowls offer a more portable meal compared to a slice of traditional pizza, which could appeal to certain customers who value that aspect of convenience. Cutting out the crust greatly cuts down on the carbs in the dish, which might appeal to customers watching their carb intake or following the keto diet.

Papa Bowls seem to be a smart move from a food cost perspective as well. Each bowl will cost $7.99, just over half the price of a large pepperoni pizza. The costs are "very favorable," for Papa John's, Kalinowski said, so sales will likely improve the chain's margins.

Papa Bowls will be available for loyalty members beginning on August 15, and for all customers on August 22.


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