Breakups are hard. There’s no denying it. And they’re a lot harder when you’ve put years of work into a relationship. Best case scenario, you can walk away knowing that it was simply time to part ways, and that the efforts were not a failure, but a learning experience you don’t regret. Worst case scenario, you become a fixture on One America News Network to decry the sabotage that has been committed against you. Guess which path “Papa” John Schnatter has chosen for himself?
Bloomberg Businessweek published a rather colorful feature on Schnatter this week, taking all the scattered stories we’ve heard about the disgraced pizza mogul over the past four years and presenting them as a cohesive timeline of his ouster. It all assembles a clearer picture of how the founder of Papa John’s spends his days now and what his plans for the future might be: In the short term, he is preparing lawsuits and showing off his mansion on TikTok. Long-term, he might just try to regain control of the 5,000+ restaurants that bear his name.
“It was a crucifixion,” Schnatter tells Bloomberg reporter Devin Leonard of the 2017 controversy in which Schnatter uttered a racial slur on a conference call, thereby putting public pressure on Schnatter to step down as CEO of Papa John’s in January 2018. “It was unethical. It was immoral. It was evil.”
You might have heard the story by now, as Schnatter tells it: His adversaries within Papa John’s might have set him up to utter the slur, baiting him with the topic of racism so as to record it and incriminate him. It does seem to be accurate that Schnatter was using the term in reference to what someone else said—that “someone else” being Colonel Sanders of KFC, a claim that the Sanders estate has vehemently denied—to illustrate that Schnatter’s own condemnation of NFL players’ protests was mild in comparison. But Schnatter has tried to use that one dubious fact to launch numerous lawsuits against pretty much everyone present on the conference call.
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Between the lawsuits, media appearances, social media grandstanding, and renovations of his Kentucky mega-mansion, Schnatter is, as Leonard puts it, “projecting his best life, except his best life is the one he no longer has—the one where he’s still running Papa John’s.” Ouch.
“I was a hometown hero,” Schnatter says of his rise to fame and fortune in the 1980s and ’90s. “Then somewhere between store 1,000 and store 2,000, I become a bad guy. Something happens where you get a certain size, and it just rubs people the wrong way.”
Oh, I don’t know about that. And I don’t know that Schnatter believes this, either. If he understands anything, it’s that making headlines for your condemnation of the “progressive elite left” and the mating eagle statue in your foyer is about the same as being known for your business acumen if all you really want to do is keep your name on people’s lips. And given that he has just cashed out $500 million in shares of Papa John’s stock, he has the resources to continue filling the room with hot air for as long as he likes.
When asked if he sees himself somehow returning to his place within the Papa John’s empire, Schnatter is ambivalent. “You never want to say never,” he says. In this one instance, I really, really want to say never.
And by the way, if you’re wondering how the Papa John’s chain is doing amidst all this turmoil, Bloomberg all but assures us that the turmoil is mostly one-sided. The pizza chain is doing great, all things considered: Leonard notes that Papa John’s same-store growth in the U.S. is outpacing behemoths like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, and its collaboration with Shaq seems universally well received. With stuffed crust now on the menu, the chain seems ready to take on the competition with renewed vigor.
“Papa John’s positive results over the past two years speak for themselves,” reads a statement from the company.
Like we said, breakups are hard. Especially when your ex goes out and lives their best life without you.