In late 2017, John “Papa John” Schnatter stepped down as CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, the company he founded. It wasn’t a shock by the time it happened—Schnatter had been loudly critical of how the NFL handled players’ protests against police brutality, claiming that it was hurting the company’s sales since they advertised so heavily with the league. His comments inadvertently endeared Papa John’s to neo-Nazis who quickly declared it their “official” pizza. On top of that, Forbes reported that he used racial slurs in a conference call.
Now, two years later, Schnatter is trying to take back control of the narrative. Just last month, in an op-ed for the New York Post, Schnatter wrote that the company was in a free-fall without him, and he doubled down on his explanation that he used the n-word to show how much he hates racism:
More controversy ensued months later, when an internal diversity training meeting was secretly taped and leaked to Forbes with a false narrative about a comment I made. In the meeting, I expressed frustration over the NFL controversy and paraphrased someone who had purportedly used the n-word on a frequent basis. In fact, I was expressing my disdain for racism throughout the meeting, which was quite productive and demonstrated Papa John’s commitment to a diverse, positive and enriching environment.
Aside from appearing at Donald Trump’s rally for the failed reelection of Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, Schnatter has kept a relatively low public profile. In an exclusive and fairly manic interview with Louisville, Kentucky–based WDRB that came out Monday, Schnatter went even further. He lambasted Steve Ritchie, who replaced him as CEO: “Steve Ritchie, Olivia Kirtley, the board of directors all used the black community and race as a way to steal the company. They stole the company, and now they’ve destroyed the company.” He added, “I never dreamed that people that I cared about, that I loved, that I made multimillionaires, would do what they did.”
He was also extremely critical of the newest CEO, Rob Lynch, former president of Arby’s. “He has no pizza experience. He has never been in the pizza category. He doesn’t really know quality. Probably most important, he doesn’t have a passion for people,” Schnatter said. He insisted that the quality of Papa John’s pizza has noticeably dropped off, and he’s been doing the research himself: “I’ve had over 40 pizzas in the last 30 days, and it’s not the same pizza. It’s not the same product. It just doesn’t taste as good. The way they’re making the pizza is just not fundamental to what makes a Papa John’s pizza.”
Schnatter seems to be betting big that the company will bottom out in his absence, and sampling pizzas multiple times a day seems to be part of his monitoring system. He’s even sold off most of his stock and is no longer the majority shareholder. “My metaphor is: There’s no reason to be in the car when the car crashes even if you love the car,” he said.
The interview closed on an ominous and cryptic note. All Schnatter said was, “Stay tuned. The day of reckoning will come. The record will be straight.” Who or what will be reckoned with is not clear.