Papa John's founder John Schnatter's first exclusive since scandal

Papa John’s founder and CEO John Schnatter, in his first interview since stepping down amid controversy, told FOX Business in an exclusive interview with Maria Bartiromo on “Mornings with Maria” that he resigned because he was ready to retire.

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“I was not forced to retire,” he said, adding that “we had a fantastic nine-year run. We took the stock from about $6.40 a share at almost 80 bucks. And so good run, good fun, good time -- we were ready to go.”

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
PZZAPAPA JOHNS INTL59.70-2.01-3.26%

The pizza giant has gone through a series of leadership changes since Schnatter stepped down as CEO in 2017 after publicly criticizing the NFL for its response to the national anthem protests.

Schnatter said his comments were “misconstrued” and “benign,” adding that the company’s “lack of effort to correct the record” was most “frustrating.”

“I would have liked [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell just to fix the problem. Remember, a third of our budget was the NFL. So when the ratings I think were down some 20 percent ... it was hurting our business, it was hurting our franchisees, it was hurting our small business owners.”

Schnatter resigned as chairman last July after using a racial slur on a conference call.

He said the comments on the call were taped and “got twisted.”

WATCH: PAPA JOHN'S FOUNDER: FRANCHISEES, EMPLOYEES ARE NOT IN A GOOD PLACE RIGHT NOW

“There's never been any racial slurs," he said. "There has been never been any use of the word. That's probably been the most frustrating. That's not true at all. The call was 52 minutes and it was totally anti-racist. At the very end of the call, I simply stated what it was another founder said in the way he went about using that word. Colonel Sanders calls black people the N-word. I would never call a black person the N-word. It's not the way I was raised.”

Colonel Sanders' family has come out and defended his name against Schnatters’ claims, saying the KFC founder was not a racist, but Schnatter said “I haven’t heard that” and “it was common knowledge that Colonel Sanders talked like that."

WATCH: PAPA JOHN'S FOUNDER: FRANCHISEES, EMPLOYEES ARE NOT IN A GOOD PLACE RIGHT NOW

When Bartiromo asked Schnatter what he wanted the public to understand about him, he said he is worried about the employees.

“To put it in context, the most unfathomable, unbelievable thing about this this whole situation is that the old board and the old executive team under [Steve] Ritchie used the black community, used race and the media -- Forbes -- to steal the company and thus destroy the company or hurt the company very badly.”

“In what way,” asked Bartiromo.

“Wall Street's fine [$40 per share to $50 per share] -- good momentum,” he said. “What concerns me is Main Street. Our business is not healthy right now. So that needs to be rectified rather quickly.”

Schnatter is the largest individual shareholder.

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