Papa John's founder and CEO John Schnatter attends a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, Oct. 18, 2017. Schnatter says the pizza chain needs him back as its public face, and that it was a mistake for the company to scrub him from its marketing materials after he acknowledged using a racial slur last month Credit: Timothy D. Easley | AP

Papa John’s International’s founder, blocked from the pizza chain’s headquarters amid a deepening dispute with the rest of the board, is betting that franchisees and workers will have his back.

John Schnatter, who resigned last month as chairman, took out a full-page ad in the company’s hometown paper, the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, to direct employees to a website he’s launched called Papa John’s has about 120,000 workers worldwide, including those at its franchises.

“The Board wants to silence me,” Schnatter, 56, wrote on the website, which includes copies of legal documents in his fight with the pizza company. “So this is my website, and my way to talk to you.”

The website is part of Schnatter’s bid for new leadership at the chain, which is struggling with declining sales and controversies related to his comments. Schnatter came under pressure after a July media report that he used a racial slur and descriptions of violence against minorities on a call with a media agency. He admitted to using the slur but said he was taken out of context.

Months earlier, he had exited the chief executive officer job over critical comments about the NFL’s national-anthem controversy. He’s since said he regrets resigning.

“Papa John’s is our life’s work and we will all get through this together somehow, some way,” Schnatter says on the website. “I can only imagine how difficult this entire situation is on you, and I’m very sorry you all have to go through this.”

After the pizza chain reported weaker-than-expected earnings last quarter, Schnatter published a blistering critique of the company’s leadership, including CEO Steve Ritchie.

The chain noted that Schnatter’s controversy is weighing down performance, with North American same-store sales falling 10.5 percent in July. The chain has had to give financial assistance to franchisees who’ve been hurt by Schnatter’s statements “to mitigate closings,” it said.

On July 22, the company’s board adopted a poison pill designed to prevent Schnatter from adding to his roughly 30 percent stake in a bid to gain majority control.

While Schnatter is appealing to the company’s workers and franchisees, some restaurant owners have taken action to distance themselves from the founder. Franchisee groups across Florida issued statements last month stating they “do not share the same sentiments as the founder of Papa John’s.” Others have reported declines in sales.

Even so, Schnatter sees workers rallying around him.

“Know that in every minute of every day you are all in my thoughts and prayers,” Schnatter said. He adds: “We are getting the truth out there.”

Bloomberg writer K. Oanh Ha contributed to this report.

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