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Papa John Is Still Obsessed With Papa John’s

John Schnatter stepped down as the pizza chain’s chairman following revelations he’d uttered a racist slur. Now he’s cashed out over $500 million in stock and wants to clear his name.

Schnatter at his home in Louisville.

Schnatter at his home in Louisville.

Photographer: Tamara Reynolds for Bloomberg Businessweek

“It was a crucifixion,” says John Schnatter. “It was unethical. It was immoral. It was evil.” The founder of Papa John’s International Inc. is giving an emotional account of his split three years ago with the world’s third-largest pizza chain. Yes, Schnatter uttered a deplorable racial slur. Yes, he did so on a corporate conference call. But he says there’s so much more to the story.

Schnatter is pleading his case in a building he calls the Outhouse, a hangout spot beside the golf course on his estate near Louisville. He’s seated in a leather-bound rocking chair with a decorative animal fleece draped over the back. Sipping from a tall can of Liquid Death Mountain Water, he lists the forces he says played a role in his downfall: duplicitous Papa John’s executives, conniving ad agency reps, public-relations incompetents, the “progressive elite left.” The last one, he says, has long resented him for taking an operation begun in the broom closet of his father’s bar and transforming it into a global chain with more than 5,000 outlets. “The Papa John’s story totally debunks the left’s ideology,” he says. “This is America. You can live the American dream.”