Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Colonel Sanders Collection

During library tours, there's usually a collective chuckle on Level 2 when groups pass by the call numbers beginning with KFC—the prefix for library materials about the law of California, Connecticut and Colorado. Blame the Library of Congress, whose classification system has forever linked the law of these states with the popular fast-food restaurant. But as the Goodson Blogson recently discovered, there’s another KFC connection buried in the Archives on Level 1—a mysterious box full of files about Kentucky Fried Chicken trademarks and service marks (click for enlarged image).

As the catalog record suggests, these folders contain copies of file wrappers, the contents of files at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office related to a particular patent, trademark or service mark. The file wrappers contain the original application, as well as any subsequent correspondence about the application. Although some of these same documents are available online through the USPTO (search TESS and select the TDR button to view portions of the file wrapper), the box contains more correspondence than is reflected in the online search. (However, the files do not actually disclose the Colonel’s secret recipe—the application refers only to “an herb and spice blend,” of which the contents are a protected trade secret.)

No one is entirely sure why this box ended up at the Goodson Law Library. But the evidence suggests that the contents may have previously been in the files of area restaurateur Pete Rinaldi, the son of two prominent Durham restaurant owners (Pete Sr. and “Mama” Arline operated Rinaldi’s Grill, a beloved eatery among Duke students). In 1963, the younger Pete branched out on his own, paying $23,000 for the city’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise (see the former Ninth Street location). In just a few years, his business had grown to seven KFC franchises, which he sold to a competitor in 1969. A decade later, he opened his own eatery, Pete Rinaldi’s Fried Chicken, on Guess Road; that location closed in the 1980s, but the restaurant resurfaced in the Northgate Mall food court in 1989.

One might naturally suspect that the files are related to litigation between KFC and its former franchise operator over misappropriation of the famous secret recipe. However, Rinaldi and Colonel Sanders remained personal friends long after the 1969 sale of the Durham franchises—the Colonel even visited the grand opening of Rinaldi’s Guess Road location, and the pair frequently traveled together (with the Colonel in his trademark white suits, and Rinaldi in contrasting black suits). Perhaps Rinaldi was modeling his own trademark applications after his famous friend's, or perhaps he was preemptively trying to avoid infringement of the famous “eleven herbs and spices.” (For what it’s worth, long-time members of the Goodson Law Library staff maintain that Rinaldi’s fried chicken recipe was superior. Sadly, you cannot taste for yourself: the Northgate Mall location closed in 1990, less than a year before Rinaldi died of cancer.)

If you’d like to peruse the file wrappers, you’ll need to ask at the service desk for assistance—they’re in a locked area on Level 1. You might also wish to peruse biographies of the Colonel for further evidence of this Durham connection. The Duke University Libraries’ print collection is woefully small, but a catalog search for the subject keywords harland sanders and biography does return a 1982 bio, The Colonel: The Captivating Biography of the Dynamic Founder of a Fast-Food Empire (Perkins/Bostock TX910.5.S25 P4 1982). Regrettably, our collection does not include some additional promising titles in WorldCat, such as The Colonel’s Secret: Eleven Herbs and a Spicy Daughter or the 1981 KFC corporate biography, It Wasn’t All Gravy. But that’s why we have interlibrary loan service.

Additional sources:
  • David Newton, Rinaldi, 59, Bounces Back with Another Fried Chicken Shop, Durham Morning Herald, Oct. 22, 1989, at B1.
  • Rocky Rosen, Col. Sanders Protégé Dies at 61, Durham Herald-Sun, Nov. 20, 1991, at C1.