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.

Shannon Quinn remains determined to prove to the cayenne-loving public that Watson has betrayed rather than honored Dick Quinn's legacy. "[My father] was intent on leaving the company of Quinn Publishing as a legacy for his children. He looked at Al Watson as his best friend," she says. "Basically, [Watson] siphoned off all of our resources to his company. He interposed himself between us and our own customers and really damaged our business. He squandered our potential."

Last September the racketeering charges against Watson were dismissed. The remaining counts still include a copyright dispute, breach of fiduciary duty, wrongful conversion of assets from Quinn Publishing to Cayenne Trading, unjust enrichment, and plain old defamation. From the outset, Watson has counterclaimed defamation and nonpayment of royalties for his portion of Death by Deception. Both sides are due to file their final, pretrial motions with the court on March 5. Barring dismissal or settlement, the case could reach trial later this spring.

Devin Quinn, 34, worked at Heart Foods from 1991 to 1998, when he excused himself from any family business; he's still waiting for all the hotheads to cool off and the bitter lawsuits to blow over. Devin recalls that during a visit in California in 1995, his ailing father predicted what would come to pass: "He said that he knows there's going to be at least three lawsuits after he dies. So far we're up to number two."

Rick Sealock


There's a video of Dick Quinn on the stump, in 1993, at the Cancer Control Conference in Pasadena, Calif. It's a testimonial, straight and simple, to the miraculous curative power of cayenne. In it, Quinn stands alone onstage before his live audience. He's just warming up as the tape rolls--laying out, in his low-key patter, the out-of-body experience that accompanied his heart attack; the inept ministerings of his Dark Ages cardiologist; and then, then the pure dumb-luck discovery of the powers of capsicum.

Even as he talks, the Minnesota native's folksy, lemme-tell-ya delivery style is peppered with humor and self-deprecation, drawing steady laughter from the assembly. With his frosty hair and sure smile, he could pass for a TV pitchman. His eyes dance as they scan the crowd; he's dressed in a gray jacket, with a yellow carnation pinned over his heart.

At one point he holds up a copy of Left for Dead for all to see. He's pushing the memoir, of course, but says he couldn't care less if his listeners buy it. He just wants them to hear him out. He wants to save their lives.

The story won't die, and, in some ways, Dick Quinn hasn't, either. Shannon Quinn says she still get calls from people who've just read his memoir and think he is still alive--that somehow cayenne pepper might have granted him everlasting life. After all, the book, currently in its 14th edition, makes no mention of the author's demise. Life, as a rule, sells better than death. And every corner of the late Quinn's balkanized empire sells what Quinn sold: hope.

In January of 1995, shortly after learning he suffered from congestive heart failure, Quinn, between doses of cayenne, jotted a quick note to his sister. It offers a snapshot of Quinn's good humor even in perilous times, and betrays no particular concern about profit margins, sales strategies, or his own legacy: "As for now, it did stop raining and it's going to be 83 today. Why worry?"


For an online look at the mighty red pepper, see,, and

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