Ousted Papa John's Founder Creates Website to 'Save' His Company and Get the 'Truth Out There'
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Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has lost his CEO title and board chair position as a result of racially divisive comments, but he hasn’t lost his majority stake in the company -- or his ability to directly communicate with the franchise’s employees.
Schnatter relinquished his role as board chair of the pizza franchise last month after using the n-word on a company conference call. This development followed him stepping down from his CEO position on Jan. 1, following remarks that the NFL’s handling of kneeling protests during the national anthem was negatively affecting Papa John’s as a sponsor and advertiser.
But Schnatter’s not readily giving up leadership of his company. This week, he launched SavePapaJohns.com, a website through which he can maintain contact with Papa John’s employees and the public. The home page of SavePapaJohns.com features a cover photo of Schnatter and a series of statements:
“I built Papa John’s from the ground up and remain its largest shareholder. I love my Company, its employees, franchisees and customers.
“The Board wants to silence me. So this is my website, and my way to talk to you.
“As I said in a recent letter, I miss you all very much. More than words can express! Papa John’s is our life’s work and we will all get through this together somehow, some way. I can only imagine how difficult this entire situation is on you, and I’m very sorry you all have to go through this. Know that in every minute of every day you are all in my thoughts and prayers.
“Included in this website are links to recent press releases, news articles and public filings -- we are getting the truth out there.”
Other sections of the site include “About John,” which contains a biography of the 56-year-old founder and a bulleted list of honors and awards Schnatter has received; “Recent Developments,” where Schnatter has uploaded legal documents, statements and press releases and letters pertaining to his departure from company leadership (with titles such as “John’s Request For The Documents He Is Owed As A Director” and “The Company’s Answer, Refusing To Give John Anything”); and a series of links to “News Coverage” detailing Schnatter’s legal actions against the company and his unfavorable opinions of his successor, Steve Ritchie.
A public relations firm working on behalf of Schnatter also purchased a full-page ad in the Aug. 22 edition of the Courier-Journal -- the city paper of Louisville, Ky., where Schnatter founded the pizza chain in 1984 -- reassuring “fellow team members” that he misses them “more than words can express” and that “we will all get through this together.”
Papa John’s provided the following statement to Adweek regarding Schnatter’s outreach:
“We are not, nor should we be, dependent on one person. Papa John’s is 120,000 corporate and franchisee team members around the world. Stakeholders, including customers, franchisees, employees, and investors, have expressed strong support for the actions we have taken to separate our brand from Mr. Schnatter. No matter what John does, he will not be able to distract from the inappropriate comments he made. We appreciate this support and are confident we are taking the right steps to move the company forward.”
Schnatter initiated controversy on Papa John’s Nov. 1, 2017, quarterly earnings call, during which he criticized the NFL for exhibiting “poor leadership” in response to “take a knee” protests during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“By not resolving the current debacle to the player and owner's satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders,” Schnatter said on the call. He also expressed disappointment that “the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago.”
These comments resulted in public accusations of racism by Schnatter and an embrace of Papa John’s by white supremacists, who labeled the chain’s fare the “official pizza of the alt-right.” Papa John’s publicly condemned this groups, and Schnatter stepped down from his CEO role two months after the earnings call.
Never. We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it. We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.— Papa John's Pizza (@PapaJohns) December 2, 2017
In May of this year, Schnatter, who then remained board chair, used the n-word on a conference call that Papa John’s organized for the express purpose of racial sensitivity education. In an apparent attempt to excuse his comments about the NFL on the Nov. 1 earnings call, Schnatter stated, “Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s.” (Many have since come to the late Sanders’s defense and denied this claim.)
Also on the call, Schnatter reportedly detailed violent acts that he witnessed growing up in Indiana, including people murdering African Americans by dragging them behind trucks. Despite what he says were anti-racist intentions in making these comments, many interpreted them as inappropriate.
“News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true,” Schnatter said in a statement about the May call. “Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society.”
Schnatter resigned from his board seat on July 11. Since then, accusations that Schnatter engaged in sexual misconduct and fostered a “bro culture” within the company have surfaced. Schnatter has disputed the allegations.
Papa John’s has experienced losses attributed to Schnatter’s actions and reputation. Last month, it began offering its franchisees financial assistance to prevent closures.