Red Hot Heartbreak

Twin Cities entrepreneur Dick Quinn believed in the healing power of cayenne pepper. But in the four years since his death, the wrangling over rights to his five-alarm cure has been anything but therapeutic.

Amid this whirlwind of activity, and perhaps because of it, things on the home front had become anything but harmonious. In 1993 Quinn, in the process of obtaining a divorce from Paula, moved to San Clemente, Calif., where his daughter Kelly lived. R.F. Quinn Publishing was still under his control, but he was often on the road promoting the book. The company remained headquartered in Minneapolis, and he left his friend Al Watson in charge of it.

Watson, who had left Heart Foods in 1992 over disagreements with Paula Quinn, started Cayenne Trading Company in 1993 with his mentor's aid and blessing. Watson had sold out his 19 percent interest in Heart Foods to Paula Quinn the previous year for all of $2,000. Quinn Publishing and Cayenne Trading shared the same business address. The following year, Quinn assisted his oldest son Foley in starting Quinn Naturals in Wisconsin. Both of the lawsuits that followed Quinn's death trace their roots to this period, when the number of Quinn-connected companies mushroomed.

"Money really didn't mean a lot to him--he was more interested in just helping people," recalls Foley Quinn of his father. "He developed a number of formulas and gave us a license to use his name and formulas." Quinn says he employs a staff of 15 people and currently sells 12 mostly cayenne-based products. "One of the things that we found out through our surveys," he notes, "is that there was no name that was more recognized with cayenne than Quinn."

Rick Sealock

The divorce decree, final in April 1994, established that Dick Quinn would keep his publishing company and retain rights to his name, signature, and likeness; Paula would head Heart Foods. Quinn, even then, was not a rich man; the court filing lists his annual income at $24,000. But there was more to life than money. Acquaintances still recall his love for old, rusted-out convertibles that barely ran. Langley remembers Quinn once buying a 1960 turquoise Falcon convertible for the grand sum of $268.18: "He drove that thing around like he was the captain of the finest yacht on earth."

By late 1994 Quinn's health was failing again. He'd been down at a convention in Orlando, Fla., pushing Left for Dead, when he started to have trouble breathing. Once back home in San Clemente, he began suffering from chest pains. Quinn's family convinced him to see a real doctor for the first time in 16 years in December 1994. It was during that visit that he learned he had congestive heart failure. The physician told Quinn that his heart was "enormous" and beating 240-300 times a minute; he couldn't understand why the thing hadn't given out already. Even with that diagnosis, Quinn lived for nearly another year. He died, a relatively young man, in California on September 3, 1995, of a ruptured aortal aneurysm.

There were two memorial services, one in California, the other in his hometown of Faribault, Minn. In accordance with his wishes, Richard Foley Quinn's ashes were scattered over County Clare, Ireland. At the time of his death, he didn't own a home or a running automobile, and had no health insurance. "He was never a very materialistic or numbers-oriented person," says Colin, who lives in Florida and serves on the board of R. F. Quinn Publishing Co. "And I think that's maybe what lead into some of the litigation that followed."

 

A pepper-red Camaro with "Cayenne" vanity plates is parked outside the South Minneapolis headquarters of Heart Foods. Inside the offices, wreaths of dried peppers hang on the wall, pepper-patterned rugs grace the floor, and copies of Left for Dead are stacked in a neat pile on a table.

Paula Quinn's eyes sparkle, framed by her ash-blond hair, when she talks about her late ex-husband. "He was a colorful character," she enthuses. "I always used to call him a free bird, because he was very free-spirited. He had the most charisma of any person I've ever met. He was the most humble, honest person I've ever met--a creative genius."

Still, the cayenne guru was no model for healthy living. "He would start his day with three or four fried eggs, bacon or ham, coffee, five or six Power Caps," she recalls. "In his book, he calls himself Mr. Cheeseburger." He didn't exercise. Gym membership? Aerobics? Forget it. "Cayenne is what kept him alive."

And it is cayenne that's driven Quinn's family and friends into court. Seven months to the day after Quinn died, Paula Quinn, president and majority owner of Heart Foods, sued former employees Al Watson and Foley Quinn in federal court. The crux of the claim was that Quinn Naturals and Cayenne Trading were wrongfully trading on the good name of Dick Quinn. All three companies had been started by Quinn or with his assistance, and all three still sell cayenne-based products. Heart Foods presented a host of allegations, including misappropriation of trade secrets, deceptive trade practices, copyright infringement, and "injury to business reputation." In the suit, Paula Quinn and her attorneys sought to stop the other two companies from using her late ex-husband's name, in addition to seeking damages for lost business.

Although Quinn himself seemed to live a seat-of-the-pants existence, the Heart Foods case argued that in the matter of his legacy there was a bundle of money at stake. The company estimated that lost sales during the period from 1994 to 1996 totaled "at least $784,000," and blamed the shortfall on unfair competition from Cayenne Trading and Quinn Naturals. The same filing contended that the company's sales, which had been more than $1 million annually in 1994 and 1995, were now down an estimated 35 percent from projections.

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