PW: Twenty years ago, Paul Newman wanted to open up a restaurant, but you talked him out of it. How did Paul Newman come up with the idea of opening a restaurant?
A.E. Hotchner: He really didn't like many of the restaurants that were around [in Westport, Conn.] at the time. He still doesn't. And he has an inordinate amount of pride in his hamburger, which he says has never been duplicated by man. If he could sell that, I think that'd be even better for him than the salad dressing, but I don't think even he can do it. He's also proud of his scrod. It's just one of those things he does well, like popcorn and beer.
PW: Maybe that could be the next stage for him: opening a microbrewery.
AEH: Don't think he hasn't been pursuing it! We almost hooked up with a brewer in Norwalk until Joanne [Woodward] put her foot down, and that was the end of that.
PW: You did most of the initial legwork setting up the salad dressing business.
AEH: He was off making films and I was ostensibly trying to write a book. But when he makes a film, he's in his trailer most of the time, waiting for lights to be set up and all that, so we were constantly on the phone. At first I didn't think he was serious about trying to bottle his dressing, but the more he persisted, the more I realized that if I wanted to get him off my back, I'd better get the dressing into a bottle.
PW: But the book makes it clear you two didn't approach this from a conventional business sense.
AEH: We had no sense, business or otherwise. We just expected to throw $40,000 into the wind and that would be it. But there's a kind of doggedness about the two of us and what we do in our own deals, and that took over. It became a game for us, a hell of a challenge that we took on because it was intriguing to learn about the food business.
PW: His early emphasis on natural ingredients seems to have presaged the whole foodie revolution.
AEH: I think the first time we were really conscious of that was the spaghetti sauce, because everything else was just so awful. People have forgotten how bad spaghetti sauce was back then. It was just a puree with sugar and chemicals to preserve it. You only bought it as a base to add stuff to. We consciously set out to do something different, and today every sauce is "garden fresh" or "all-natural" with hunks and chunks in it.
PW: Through the business, you and he have given more to charity than you've made in your respective day jobs over the years.
AEH: Much more. Harvard Business School has invited us to speak, I've gone to Yale to speak to the business school there.... They can't believe that we can run a corporation and give away all the profits and go back to the bank every January 1 for loans to keep going. And we really can give away everything. Not every other business can do that, but they can certainly do better than they're doing now. They're entitled to give 10 percent of their profits to charity, but they only give one percent, maybe a little less.
PW: You mention in the book that Mr. Newman would prefer to do his philanthropy quietly and privately, but you both know it's the very public success of the company that enables you to do as much as you do.
AEH: He really doesn't like the hustling we need to do to make as much as we make. Even writing the book was something we wouldn't have undertaken, until Nan Talese pointed out to us that maybe half the people who buy our products don't know our money goes to charity.
PW: What was the division of labor on the book?
AEH: I taped a lot of our conversations, then did a core manuscript based on that. I gave it to Paul triple-spaced with wide margins, and he scribbled all over it, then we got together and went over that. I edited it down and we went over it like that again.
PW: And you still have your day jobs.
AEH: He's up in Maine making Empire Falls, and I've got a book coming out next February about Elaine of Elaine's restaurant in New York.
PW: Do you have a favorite Newman's Own product?
AEH: I like a spaghetti sauce we make called Fra Diavolo. Putting that on spaghetti is my idea of heaven.