Jan. 29, 2001 -- KFC today dropped its lawsuit against a couple who thought they had come across a long-sought secret— the ingredients to Colonel Sanders' world famous chicken.
KFC officials today said the handwritten note found by restauranteurs Tommy and Cherry Settle in the basement of a home in Kentucky once owned by Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders does not contain his secret recipe.
"We've been looking at a list of ingredients provided to us by a couple in Shelbyville, the Settles, to see if they have the original recipe, and I'm here to say that they do not," said KFC spokeswoman Laura Melillo. "Some of the spices in the secret recipe are missing."
Melillo added that the contents of the handwritten note looked more like a "stuffing recipe."
The Settles stumbled upon a dusty, 1964 leather-bound datebook in the basement of the home while sorting some old boxes 16 months ago. In it was a note, allegedly handwritten by Colonel Sanders, that contained 11 herbs and spices in specific percentages.
"I was thumbing through it and in the back I found it." Cherry Settle said. "I looked, and I counted, and I thought gee, that's 11. Eleven spices, herbs and spices."
Fast Kentucky Fried Lawsuit
The Settles, who say they knew Sanders well and had bought the home from him in the 1970s, say they were amazed by their find, and considered selling the datebook through an auction house. They decided to contact KFC to see if the recipe was authentic. But once KFC was notified, lawyers and a lawsuit soon followed.
"We took it very seriously," said Melillo. "We filed the lawsuit to protect the quality of our product."
KFC — which is now part of the Tricon Global Restaurant Corporation — is fervent in its efforts to keep the recipe secret, Melillo said. The company buys spices from different vendors, so no one vendor can ever add it all up.
KFC officials make the few employees who do know the recipe sign confidentiality agreements, and the company goes to court when the safety of the secret is threatened.
KFC sued the Settles to get the diary they thought contained the secret recipe. As the diary was seized and placed in a vault at the county courthouse in Shelbyville, lawyers informed the Settles that the recipe was "intellectual property" — Tricon's intellectual property. The Settles also were warned to drop any plans to sell the recipe, or even reveal it.
"[It was] interesting that they put a lawsuit on us instead of just looking at the diary," said Tommy Settle.
Today, KFC officials looked at the diary and breathed easier and called off their attorneys.
"The original recipe is safely locked in our vault at KFC headquarters, and we did examine [the diary]," said Melillo.
"The Colonel's original recipe has 11 herbs and spices. This falls about five herbs and spices short. An interesting part of it [is] … it [the handwritten note] was in a diary dated 1964, and the colonel's original recipe was developed in 1939. So we're a few years off from it possibly being the secret recipe."
Couple Not Convinced
But the Settles aren't completely convinced. "It's in the Colonel's handwriting," says Tommy Settle. "I know what goes into a chicken recipe and those [ingredients in the note] go in a chicken recipe."
Still, they're relieved. They are now free to retrieve the Colonel's diary from the courthouse vault. It isn't clear how they're going to pay their attorney's fees, but maybe selling the diary will help.
And the Colonel's original recipe will remain in the grave he's occupied since 1980, and with a select few KFC employees sworn to secrecy. Though the diary recipe is not the original, Cherry Settle still isn't going to reveal what ingredients were listed — especially not to ABCNEWS.
"Oh," she says, laughing, "I can't tell you that."
ABC Affiliate WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.