In the second change in its top management in three months, the president of Papa John’s International Inc.’s United States operations is following the pizza chain’s CEO out the door.

William Van Epps is leaving after about two years as president, USA, replaced by William Mitchell, according to a news release.

Mitchell had been Papa John’s senior vice president of domestic operations since February 2007, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the Louisville-based pizza delivery chain’s operations in the United States.

The position of president, USA was created for Van Epps in 2005.

The president, USA oversees all domestic Papa John’s domestic operations, corporate and franchised, as well as new store development and franchise sales, said Chris Sternberg, vice president, corporate communications and Papa John’s interim counsel.

Van Epps is leaving to pursue other interests, but will assist in Mitchell’s transition, Sternberg said.

He stressed that Van Epps was part of the decision making process and helped groom Mitchell for the president, USA position.

“Bill Van Epps would tell you that he’s trained Mitchell as his successor,” Sternberg said.

Van Epps will be on site, or available by phone during the transition, he added.

Mitchell has about 20 years of experience in restaurant operations, according to the release.

Prior to joining Papa John’s, he had worked in various operational roles for AFC Enterprises, Inc., including as senior director of franchises for 1,400 franchised Popeye’s restaurants,

Van Epps was appointed in May 2005 to the newly created position of president, USA. He joined Papa John’s in 2001.

“Bill has made some outstanding contributions to Papa John’s, both in the marketing and operations areas, to help keep our brand vibrant over the years,” Papa John’s founder and interim CEO John Schnatter said in the release. “We wish him the very best in all his future endeavors.”

Van Epps’ departure follows the December resignation of Nigel Travis as the company’s president and CEO. Travis became CEO of Canton, Mass-based Dunkin’ Brands Inc.

Schnatter replaced Travis as interim CEO, returning to Papa John’s day-to-day managment after 19 months as an unpaid, non-employee chairman and spokesman.

The search process for a new CEO is under way, Sternberg said.

“John’s goal is to name a replacement CEO by the end of the second quarter” of 2009, Sternberg said.

Triangle Business Journal