Papa John's founder apologizes: 'Racism has no place in our society'

The pizza chain's founder, John Schnatter, confirmed reports about inappropriate language on a May conference call.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

CHICAGO: Papa John’s founder, chairman, and public face John Schnatter has apologized after using the n-word on a conference call in May.

Papa John’s issued two statements on this matter on Wednesday, a representative told PRWeek via email. One statement came from Schnatter, who explained that "news reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to [him] during a media training session regarding race are true. Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society."

The other statement, which came from the brand, said Papa John’s condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting.

"Our company was built on a foundation of mutual respect and acceptance," said the brand in an emailed statement. "One of our core company values is People Are Priority Always (P.A.P.A.) and we are committed to maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace for all of our corporate and franchise employees."

The brand added that it takes "great pride" in the diversity of its staffers and it will continue to strive to do better in that area.

A conference call in May was arranged between Papa John’s executives and creative AOR Laundry Service to prevent future PR goof-ups, according to Forbes.

In November, Schnatter said on an earnings call that NFL anthem protests were to blame for lackluster quarterly sales. On the May call, when asked how he would distance himself from racist groups online, Schnatter downplayed the significance of his NFL statement.

"Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s," Schnatter allegedly said, according to Forbes, before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.

In response to Schnatter’s NFL statement in November, competitor DiGiorno started a food fight with the brand on social that lasted for days. The frozen pizza brand’s first tweet used growth chart emojis to show its sales are booming, while those of an unnamed competitor are not. Perhaps to make sure its dig didn’t go over anyone’s head, DiGiorno posted a more obvious tweet, making fun of Papa John’s motto—"Better ingredients. Better pizza"— with the message "Better Pizza. Better sales."

When Schnatter made his comment, Papa John's was the official pizza of the NFL, a relationship that ended in February.

Laundry Service decided to part ways with the company following the conference call. Laundry Service has been working with Papa John’s since October

Forbes reported that in May, Schnatter "pushed out" CMO Brandon Rhoten, who lobbied to keep the founder off airwaves.

In May, Papa John's reported Q1 earnings and sales that missed expectations. Net income was $16.7 million, down from $28.4 million for the same period last year. North American same-store sales fell 5.3% and international same-store sales increased 0.3%.

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