John Schnatter takes his case to the public

The founder of Papa John’s has started a website and sent a letter to the company’s employees.
Photograph by Scott Mitchell

Declaring that “Papa John’s is our life’s work,” John Schnatter wrote a letter to the company’s employees and published it on a new website in the latest salvo in his ongoing battle against the company he founded.

The letter was published on a website Schnatter has created called “Save Papa John’s,” where the embattled former chairman and CEO is publishing releases, statements and other developments.

papa johns website

“I miss you all very much,” Schnatter wrote. “The board will not let me talk to you and that has been very difficult. I can only imagine how difficult this entire situation is on you, and I’m very sorry you all have to go through this.”

He called employees the “heart and soul of this company.”

Schnatter then said that, “It has come to my attention that you have been told that I want items with my image or likeness removed from the building and other Papa John’s assets. This is not the case at all.”

“Papa John’s is our life’s work and we will all get through this together somehow, some way,” he added.

In a statement, Papa John’s said it is not “dependent on one person,” and said that the company’s franchisees, employees and investors have backed the company’s efforts to move past its Schnatter-centric marketing.

“We are not, nor should we be, dependent on one person,” the company said. “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 the 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 has been at war with Papa John’s since he resigned as its chairman last month, after he admitted using a racial slur during a conference call—a call aimed at training Schnatter to avoid public relations disasters, following comments he made in November blaming NFL player protests for weak ratings and the chain’s weakening sales.

A special committee of the board of directors has terminated his founder’s agreement, kicked him out of his office at the company’s Louisville, Ky., headquarters and stopped using him and his likeness in its marketing.

Schnatter owns 30% of Papa John’s stock and remains a board member. He has since said he regrets resigning as chairman and has said that he is best suited to fix the company’s problems.

He has also been highly critical of the existing management team, most of which was appointed when Schnatter was chairman and CEO. That includes Steve Ritchie, who replaced Schnatter as CEO in December.

Schnatter has also sued Papa John’s and its board seeking documents related to his ouster from the company.

“I am not going away,” Schnatter said last month after Papa John’s reported a same-store sales decline of 6.1% in the second quarter and 10.1% in July—declines Schnatter has blamed on Ritchie and existing management.

Ritchie, for his part, has said that Papa John’s needed to get away from a founder-centric marketing plan. The company has also started helping ailing operators, providing royalty relief and other assistance amid a decline in domestic store count, to 3,407 from 3,428, over the past 12 months.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comment from Papa John’s.

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