BOULDER — Christopher Wynne, an American owner of the largest chain of Papa John’s pizza restaurants in Russia, faces backlash from critics who learned from a New York Times profile published Monday about his refusal to shut down the businesses amid Russia’s widely condemned attacks on neighboring Ukraine.
Wynne’s business dealings expand beyond Russia; he and his family are the owners and operators of Boulder-based Miraflora, a maker of CBD products such as gel capsules, beverages and tinctures that’s operated by Buffalo Ventures LLC.
Wynne, who through a public-relations representative declined an interview with BizWest, controls PJ Western, a company that runs about 190 Papa John’s outposts across Russia. He told the Times that he has no plans to shutter them even as other major American brands such as McDonald’s and Starbucks are curtailing Russian operations.
According to the Times, Wynne has worked and lived in Russia part-time for the better part of two decades.
“The vast majority of Russian people are very clear headed and understand the dark gravity of the situation they’re in,” he told the Times. “And, at the end of the day, they appreciate a good pizza.”
Not only is Wynne not planning to halt serving pizzas in Russia, the newspaper reported that he plans to open as many as 40 new restaurants in the country.
“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,” he told the Times.
Papa John’s International Inc. decided last week to suspend corporate operations in Russia.
The parent company and franchisor said it will “no longer provide operational, marketing or business support” for independent franchise operators, such as Wynne.
While Papa John’s said it won’t accept royalty payments from Russian restaurants, it appears that the parent company doesn’t hold much sway over the decisions of its franchisees, nor does it own or operate any corporate stores in the country.
Wynne’s decision to keep his Russian doors open has been widely criticized on social media.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted to his nearly 770,000 followers, “My family are huge fans of Papa John’s. But we [are] taking a break for now. It is immoral to be making money in Putin’s Russia as he slaughters innocent children in Ukraine. Do Better Papa John. Join the hundreds of other U.S. businesses who rightly pulled out.”
Papa John’s is “once again on the wrong side of everything,” NBC journalist Josh Mankiewicz tweeted.
The Kentucky-based pizza chain is no stranger to controversy.
The company’s founder and well-known supporter of right-wing causes and candidates, John Schnatter, stepped down as CEO in 2018 after complaining that the NFL, with which Papa John’s had a business relationship, wasn’t doing enough to discourage kneeling in protest of police violence.
Schnatter remained the chairman of the company’s board of directors but was soon forced to resign that role when it became public that he used a racial slur during a corporate sensitivity-training conference call.
Wynne, along with members of his family, launched Miraflora about two years ago.
“Chris, a native Coloradan, likes to pass himself off as ‘a pizza guy.’ But what that really means is that he built one of the largest pizza franchises in the world — bringing pizza to cultures where it wasn’t a thing and donating much of the proceeds to good causes along the way,” his bio on the Miraflora website says. “He’ll also tell you he ‘enjoys the outdoors,’ which means he skis gnarly lines from helicopters and summits 22,000-foot peaks in Nepal.”
The bio lists Wynne’s title with Miraflora as “Boss Man.”
Miraflora makes CBD products with hemp grown on a 160-acre Boulder-area farm owned by Christopher Wynne’s father, William Wynne, the company claims on its website.
Also involved in Miraflora’s operations is Wynne’s wife, Russian-born fashion model Anna Selezneva.
“Sure, she gets fancy on the runway, but she shows up most days wearing leggings and no makeup like normal people. (OK, like extremely good-looking normal people),” her company bio says.
Over the past several years, Miraflora has received organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and partnered with Front Range Biosciences Inc., a hemp agricultural biotechnology company, to research cannabinoid varieties that thrive in the Rocky Mountain climate.