Washington DC: John Schnatter, the founder and public face of popular American pizza chain Papa John's, has resigned as the company's chairman, hours after apologising for using a racial remark during a conference call, US media reports said on Thursday.
Schnatter, a Trump donor, had stepped down as the pizza corporation's chief executive in January after he said that National Football League player protests of racial injustice were hurting the company's pizza sales.
This is the latest in the fallout for Schantter, who faced increasing pressure after he admitted using the n-word and described a scene of violence against African Americans on a conference call in May. Forbes first reported the call, which was set up to help take Schnatter through a "role-playing exercise" to help him deal with racially sensitive situations. Schantter stepped down as CEO from Papa John's last year, after he blamed NFL leadership for failing to stop anthem protests, which he said had driven down the chain's sales.
Schnatter confirmed to Forbes that he made those comments and apologized. "News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to me during a media training session regarding race are true," he said in a statement. "Regardless of the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our society."
The company have accepted the resignation of Schnatter as Chairman of the Board, the statement said on Wednesday, adding it would appoint a new chairman "in the coming weeks".
Schnatter was appointed to the Board of Trustees by Gov. Matt Bevin but has long been a fixture at, and financial backer of, the university. The football stadium bears the name of the company he founded — Papa John's Cardinal Stadium — and he donated millions to found an eponymous Center for Free Enterprise at Louisville.
Another city also responded: The mayor of Jeffersonville, Indiana — Schnatter's hometown — ordered his name removed from its local field house on Wednesday. Schnatter had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the aging facility last year.
The pizza chain itself was also dealt a blow after Yahoo reported that the MLB had suspended a promotional deal with Papa John's. The NFL incident had brought repercussions on the company; the NFL replaced Papa John's with Pizza Hut as the official pizza of the league, and Papa John's faced slowing sales.
Schnatter created controversy even before his NFL remarks last year. The Papa John's founder got slammed in 2012 for saying that the cost of insuring his employees under the Affordable Care Act would raise the cost of pizza, which led to pushback from customers.
Schnatter, who notoriously featured himself in lots of commercials, had dialed back his public-facing role with the company after the NFL debacle. But according to Forbes, the founder wanted to stage a comeback. The conference call was an attempt to avoid future PR disasters — and ended up seriously backfiring.
Schnatter founded Papa John's in 1984. He is the public face of the company and its largest shareholder, controlling 29 per cent and appears in its ads, the report said.
Papa John's is the third largest pizza chain in the US by sales after Domino's and Pizza Hut. It has stores in dozens of countries around the world, spanning Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and in Asia, including India.