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Papa John’s founder wants return as chain’s public face after racial slur row

John Schnatter says he can return to the pizza firm’s TV and radio ads once the public understands the context of his comments.

The founder of Papa John’s says the pizza chain needs him back as its public face, and claims it was a mistake for the company to remove him from its marketing materials after he acknowledged using a racial slur.

John Schnatter said in an interview that he believes he can return to TV and radio ads once the public understands the context of his comments.

“My persona resonates with the consumer because it’s authentic, it’s genuine and it’s the truth,” he said in a phone interview with his lawyer and representative present.

He has been under fire after Forbes reported last month that he used the N-word during a media training conference call in May.

He apologised for using the word, but said it was taken out of context and that he did not use it as an epithet. He resigned as chairman quickly after the report was published, but subsequently called the decision a “mistake”.

Once the public actually grasps what the board and what the management did to cause the problem and the truth gets out, of course I can be back in the ads John Schnatter

Since then, Schnatter has criticized Papa John’s handling of the matter, saying it acted hastily without investigating what happened.

He also criticised the company’s failure to clarify his comments last year blaming disappointing pizza sales on the NFL leadership’s handling of player protests during the national anthem. Those comments were seen as insensitive to players, and prompted him stepping down as chief executive last year.

Mr Schnatter said the remarks were aimed at the league’s leadership, not its players.

Keith Hollingsworth, a professor of business at Morehouse College, said it would be best for the company if Mr Schnatter kept a low profile for the near term.

“Even if everything he’s saying is true, I’m not sure you can convince people of that,” Mr Hollingsworth said.

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Papa John’s is based in Louisville, Kentucky (Timothy D Easley/AP)

Alexander Slagle, an analyst for Jefferies, said he believes the negative publicity will continue to be “painful” for the company, but “the brand will survive”.

Mr Schnatter remains a board member and owns nearly 30% of Papa John’s stock. Following the Forbes report, the firm adopted a “poison pill” plan to prevent him from mounting a takeover.

Papa John’s reports its quarterly results next week, and Wall Street analysts expect a key sales figure in North America to decline for the third quarter in a row.

Mr Schnatter has requested documents from the company relating to its actions following the Forbes report, and claims they will help vindicate him.

“Once the public actually grasps what the board and what the management did to cause the problem and the truth gets out, of course I can be back in the ads,” he said.

Papa John’s, based in Louisville, Kentucky, began operations in 1984 and has more than 5,200 locations globally.

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