'Papa John' Schnatter launches website to 'save' pizza chain

John Schnatter, the ousted founder of Papa John’s Pizza, escalated his battle with his former company’s board on Wednesday, launching a website for the purpose of “getting the truth” to the public.

Entitled SavePapaJohns.com, the website includes links to legal documents, press releases and letters related to his dispute with the board, which removed him from its marketing campaigns and banned him from making media appearances last July. In a message to readers, Schnatter accused the board of trying to “silence” him and said he misses his customers and former employees.

“As I said in a recent letter, I miss you all very much,” Schnatter’s message reads. “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.”

The website launched alongside a full-page ad in Wednesday’s edition of the Louisville-Courier Journal. In an open letter, Schnatter said he missed Papa John’s employees “more than words can express” and vowed, “we will all get through this together.”

"We are not, nor should we be, dependent on one person,” Papa John’s said in a statement regarding the website. “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,” the statement added.

Schnatter stepped down as Papa John’s chairman in July after the publication of a report that said he used a racial slur during a conference call with marketing firm Laundry Service last May. Schnatter apologized for his use of the phrase, but claimed his words were taken out of context and accused Laundry Service executives of demanding $6 million to bury the story.

In the days after his resignation, Schnatter said the board ousted him from the chairmanship without conducting a complete investigation into the circumstances behind the May conference call or a shareholder vote on his exit. The board responded by enacting a “poison pill” provision designed to prevent Schnatter, who is still Papa John’s largest shareholder, from acquiring a controlling stake.

During an earnings call earlier this month, Papa John’s executives said sales fell about 10% in July after Schnatter’s use of a racial slur became public knowledge and 6% for the quarter. The chain plans to spend up to $50 million on efforts to revamp its marketing campaigns after the incident and has offered financial relief to franchisees.