Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Unauthorized Life Story

On Tuesday, Kentucky Fried Chicken launched, a website dedicated to collecting stories about the life of, well, Colonel Harlan Sanders. Sanders, of course, was the founder of KFC and the man who came up with the 11-herbs-and-spices recipe.

Sanders died in 1980, so it's on KFC to gather up stories and documentation about him. Granted, being KFC, you probably are not going to get the unvarnished account, just story after story about how great and nice and occasionally funny he was.

Now, KFC maintains that the site is about preserving Sanders' life story and not about just selling chicken. I find that rather hard to believe. But just in case, I offer this story.

Sanders sold his interest in KFC in 1964 for $2 million to John Brown and Jack Massey, but would spend the rest of his life as a spokesman inspecting restaurants personally right up until his death in 1980 at age 90.

Sanders wasn't to remain idle himself, however. After selling his interest on KFC, he and wife Claudia soon afterwards founded a new restaurant, Claudia Sanders Dinner House in Shelbyville, Kentucky. And while his face would remain with KFC, the menu itself was now out of his control. This didn't sit well with Sanders, who sued the then-owners, the Heublein Corporation, for $122 million. First, they were preventing him from franchising the Dinner House. Second, they were putting his name on the new menu items. (They settled out of court, possibly out of embarrassment. Sanders was allowed to franchise and sell his recipe in the Dinner House.)

So what on KFC's menu did Sanders not like? The Extra Crispy recipe. The 'Original' recipe is called that for a reason. That's the Colonel's recipe, or at least the current version of it. Extra Crispy was introduced by Brown, who swiped the idea for a crispy recipe from one of Sanders' competitors, Church's Chicken. (Which, if you don't live in the South, you should know has a national franchise of its own these days, though only one place in Kentucky itself.)

Sanders was quite happy with the original recipe, thank you. He didn't like Extra Crispy. He hated it, in fact. Just hated it. In fact, he didn't like a lot of the new menu. He hated it so loudly and fervently, in fact, that KFC sued him back in 1978 for defamation. The case was dismissed because none of the claims were deemed sue-worthy.

Among Sanders' comments on the new menu:

"The stuff on the mashed potatoes, for instance.

"My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then they mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste. And I know wallpaper paste, by God, because I've seen my mother make it.

"To the 'wallpaper paste' they add some sludge and sell it for 65 or 75 cents a pint. There's no nutrition in it and they ought not to be allowed to sell it.

"And another thing. That new crispy recipe is nothing in the world but a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken."

If the aim of KFC is really just to tell Sanders' life story, and not to sell chicken, one would think this should be included.

I'm willing to bet it won't, though.

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