Like a day-old Papa John’s “Triple Bacon Pizza” that’s become a congealed, room temperature slab of cardboard, time hasn’t been kind to Papa John Schnatter. However, unlike the pizza, the disgraced founder and former CEO of the world’s third-largest pizza chain only has himself to blame.
Three years after saying the N-word on a conference call that led to his dismissal from the company, Schnatter still believes he was the victim of a conspiracy by the “progressive elite left,” according to a new profile in Business Insider.
And despite the TikTok rebrand, which paints him as a tacky multi-millionaire who proudly flaunts his grotesque wealth as if his financial status is reflective of his moral superiority, he’s still nostalgic for the halcyon days of Papa John’s. When he was in charge, he could complain that the Affordable Care Act would force him to raise pizza prices by 14 cents. Now, Papa John’s just sells pizza.
Schnatter’s ousting was a long time coming. Even after he threatened to raise pizza prices by a reasonable amount, Schnatter’s behavior, which includes a 2014 sexual harassment suit, would continue to create PR headaches for the pizza chain best known for complimentary peperoncini and a tub of garlic sauce with every pie. If you can believe it, the rest of the company would’ve preferred the infamous pizza maker not to make comments on NFL players protesting police violence against Black Americans.
All of it came to a head during that fateful conference call when the company’s ad agency attempted to drill some example press questions that might come up following his comments on the NFL. It didn’t go well. In fact, it was probably much, much worse and more disturbing than most remember. Business Insider writes:
Toward the end of the month, Schnatter joined a conference call he says he thought was going to be a routine discussion about the ads he’d appear in next. He remembers being surprised when Stein instead presented him with a series of racially themed questions he might encounter in the chats. “One question you’ll get in some form is ‘John, are you racist?’” Stein told him, according to a transcript of the conversation that later became public.
Stein told Schnatter they needed to craft some “very tight talking points” in preparation for such queries. “Right now their imaginations are running wild,” Stein said. They “think that you’re this right wing, extremist, neo-Nazi racist.”
Schnatter says he feels as if Stein was trying to bait him into saying something that might subsequently embarrass him. Running through Stein’s questions, he expressed disbelief that anyone could accuse him of being a racist. Schnatter said he’d grown up at a time when “they used to drag Black people around behind a pickup truck until they were dead.” He called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a “coward” and accused him of destroying players’ bodies and minds. “They’re all beating their wives up,” Schnatter said. “They’re all on steroids or pot, and now he’s going to let them protest.”
Near the end of the call, Schnatter expressed his exasperation with the backlash against him. “What bothers me is Colonel Sanders called Blacks ‘[epithet],’ ” Schnatter said. “I’m like, I’ve never used that word.” Switching to the royal we, he added, “Yet we use the word ‘debacle,’ and we get framed in the same genre. It’s crazy.”
The Sanders family insists that Colonel Sanders never used such language, and even threatened to take Schnatter to court over it. Business Insider reports:
“Tell him to produce the witnesses,” says J. Trigg Adams, a descendant of Sanders. “I want to see if they will come into a court of law and swear they heard the Colonel use that word. I don’t think he’ll get anybody.”
Since the call was made public, Schnatter has been trying to get his life back on track by doing perfectly normal things, like testing 800 Papa John’s pizzas in 18 months (“Some were burnt,” he says. “Some were undercooked.”) and telling conservative news outlet OANN that he’ll spend 20 months trying “to get rid of this N-word in my vocabulary and dictionary and everything else.”
Business Insider probed the man about who he thinks is to blame for his recent hardships, concocting a conspiracy around getting him to say use racist epithets on a conference call. “As you dig in, you realize that, wow, the roots on this thing are wide, and they’re deep,” he says, crossing the Ohio River and heading into Louisville. “This may go all the way up the food chain to the powers that be in the progressive elite left.”
“They know what they did. There’s a whole lot of shredding and computers getting thrown away right now at Papa John’s to make sure that if I do get back in, they don’t leave a paper trail.”
In between that, he’s been showing off his vast wealth on TikTok, visiting his old haunts like the original Papa John’s location, and using his story as proof that the American dream is possible. The supposed cancel culture victim has more than $500 million in the bank, a personal helicopter, and numerous Raphael-inspired Frescos, including one of “Moses getting circumsized.”
Normal as ever.
[via Business Insider]
Update: An earlier version of this article did not include a response from the family of Colonel Harland Sanders regarding Schnatter’s allegations.