Paula Deen is ready to come back, y'all

The celebrity chef has formed a new company and received a whopping investment. She's now looking to make some deals.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 12, 2014 1:35PM
Paula Deen (© Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)By Lee Hawkins, The Wall Street Journal

Paula Deen is trying to reheat her career.

A recently formed new company, Paula Deen Ventures, said it has received an investment of between $75 million and $100 million from Najafi Cos., a private-equity company led by Jahm Najafi, who owns BMG Music Service and the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Phoenix-based Najafi Cos. said the cash infusion will be used to help Deen establish new deals and move away from a pure licensing model, in which she sells her likeness and expertise to others. Instead, she hopes to take more ownership and control in partnerships with retailers and other companies.

Steven Nanula, a food-industry veteran brought in to be chief executive of Paula Deen Ventures, said the company is in talks with TV networks, retail chains and other possible partners, but has yet to announce a television contract or a major deal. The company declined to name the TV networks and potential partners it has contacted.

A Food Network spokeswoman said the cable-TV channel hasn't had any talks with Deen about re-appearing on the network.

With her homey Southern drawl and her decadent fried foods, Deen became one of the best known in the crop of television celebrity chefs. But she fell from popular grace last year over her admitted use of racially controversial language. She soon lost dozens of products endorsements and her high-profile perch on the Food Network last June.

By its own description, Najafi Cos. often invests in business that are "out of popular favor." Najafi said he doesn't see investing in Deen to be an extraordinary risk. Despite the controversy, he said, her brand has strong, broad support from core fans across the U.S.

"Our investment allows the Paula Deen brand to expand their relationships and the partnerships that are already in place, and support those partnerships on a go-forward basis," said Najafi, who is also a part owner of the Phoenix Suns NBA franchise.

In an interview over e-mail, Ms. Deen said the deal with Najafi Cos. came together after she and Najafi were introduced through a mutual friend.

She said she draws confidence from the "hundreds of thousands of folks who signed up on Facebook's 'We Support Paula Deen' page," adding that "hundreds of thousands of my fans sent me messages of love and support."

In the coming months, she said, she will work on expanding from that base of support. "I hope one day that everyone can have the opportunity to know who I am, as my family, friends and fans do," she said.

In addition to Ms. Deen being booted from the Food Network in the wake of a controversy over her past use of racial slurs, Smithfield Foods Inc. dropped her, while discounters Wal-Mart (WMT) and Target (TGT) stopped selling Paula Deen products. 

Ballantine Books, an imprint of Bertelsmann SE & Co.'s Random House Inc. publishing arm, cancelled the publication of "Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Recipes, All Lightened Up."

Other high-profile personalities have rebounded after being marred by a crisis, including pro football player Michael Vick, and media personality Don Imus.

Najafi and Nanula said Deen has managed to build her social-media presence and to hold on to relationships with other major companies, including cookware distributor Meyer Foods, furniture manufacturer Universal Furniture and poultry producer Springer Mountain Chickens. Springer Mountain said sales of Deen's products have grown by 35% in the past two quarters.

Deen's in-store appearances in Dallas, Houston and Buffalo have drawn "standing room only crowds," Nanula said.

Her company adds that subscriptions to Paula Deen Magazine have risen more than 40 percent in the past year.

"The important thing to remember is that her fan base is rabid. Her Facebook fan base has more than doubled in the past year," Najafi said. "The Paula Deen brand is alive and well."

More from The Wall Street Journal

Feb 12, 2014 2:03PM
Paula Deen is still alive?  Thought for sure she had been executed for her "crimes".  The MSM sure acted like her sins were egregious enough to warrant a death sentence.  It sure seemed there for awhile that admitting to uttering a derogatory word 30 years ago was way worse than driving drunk and killing someone.  Just sayin'...
Feb 12, 2014 2:38PM
We want you back Paula!  You did nothing wrong, and the liberal media should be ashamed for crucifying you.
Feb 12, 2014 2:43PM
Most of the world missed it. She was under oath and told the truth to saying the N word years ago and a whole bunch of morons jumped up and called her a racist, really come on y'all. She won the trial by the way in case you missed that part of it. So what are we teaching our children here, tell the truth and get punished or lie and hope for the best. Hope she does well.
Feb 12, 2014 2:32PM
Yay!!!!  Food your heart out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Feb 12, 2014 2:34PM
You go girl!  Knew you would be back!!!!!!!!!!
Feb 12, 2014 2:40PM
Way to go Paula!!!!!!!  I can't believe how they found you guilty before a trial was ever held.......Show everyone you are the proud southern lady that you are!!!!!!!!!!!
Feb 12, 2014 2:51PM
Good for her! Best of luck, Paula Deen :)
Feb 12, 2014 2:32PM
go get some more money paula and show all the PC robots in this country you can have a personal opinion without on someone else's. 
Feb 12, 2014 2:43PM
I'm glad to she may be making a come back as long as the media and the race baiter decide she hasn't suffered enough.  NBC sure tried to do a modern lynching of her for something she said years ago.  I do get a kick at how big city liberals love to attack folks from the South and Mid-West.  I believe that the big city libs are the race baiter, the haters of anyone or anything that they don't agree with.  You're ok if you agree with them, but if your not from New York, California, New England your a hay seed cracker.
Feb 12, 2014 2:48PM
I think Paula is great!! I'm glad she's back on track. I wish her all the luck in the world and am looking forward to "cooking" with her as she cooks on her show.
Feb 12, 2014 2:54PM
Biggest racist is in the White House!
Feb 12, 2014 2:53PM
'Never knew Paula Deen went anywhere. If you want to know the truth, which most people really don't want truth...she is no more a racist than anyone else upon the face of the earth. Skin color is not the problem; it is deeper than that. However if one desires to discuss skin color; the dark races were in power in ancient times, (Babylon, Egypt, Mesopotamia/Persia, Assyria, etc.) and slavery is still going on as we live and breathe. Along with propaganda that white folks or Crackers, are the "only" ones that can be racist. 
Feb 12, 2014 2:28PM
Feb 12, 2014 2:57PM
Good for her!  The lying man in OUR White House has done and continues to do so much more harm to our country than the "n" word from Paula.  Another example of his "I have a phone and pen and am not afraid to use them" came yesterday.  HOW IN THE WORLD does this man continue to STOMP on the Constitution?  Oh, I know, as he made the comment to the French head the other day, "I'm the President, and I can do what I want!"  ONLY IN AMERICA and ONLY a dem.  God help us!
Feb 12, 2014 2:59PM
Cool! Good for her. F$$K Food network! I haven't watched it since it canned her for telling the truth about something that happened years ago.
Feb 12, 2014 3:10PM
 I love her. She is the Food Network. She gave birth to the Food Network. Start your own network, Paula. I would watch it day and night, y'all.
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