The queen of Southern cuisine is making a comeback — and this time she's all business.
Paula Deen's newly formed company, Paula Deen Ventures, has secured between $75 million and $100 million of funding from private equity firm Najafi Cos, which is led by Book-of-the-Month Club owner Jahm Najafi. This latest enterprise will entail the restructuring of the chef's many brands, which include Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Restaurants, and Paula Deen Media.
“We know that the enterprise will be successful and valuable, as Paula and her team continue to bring quality products and experiences to her loyal fan base; and now we have a proven management team in place to build and lead the organization,” Najafi said in a statement.
New business deals are already on the horizon: The company is discussing possible partnerships with TV networks, retail chains and other partners, according to Paula Deen Ventures' chief executive Steven Nanula. The Food Network, which announced it would not renew Deen's contract last June, is not on that list.
This new company was formed less than a year after Deen, 67, found herself embroiled in scandal when she admitted to using the "n"-word and planning a "plantation-style Southern wedding" during a court deposition that went public last May. In the wake of those revelations, the TV chef lost at least 12 business deals, with companies like Walgreens, J.C. Penney and Smithfield Foods terminating her contracts.
The deposition that led to the scandal occurred during a lawsuit brought against Deen by a former employee, which was dropped at the end of August. She made her first pubic appearance since the lawsuit on Sept. 14 and received a standing ovation at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertainment Show in Houston earlier that month.
“She’s doing really fantastic,’’ her son, Jamie, told Matt Lauer in September.
Najafi isn't worried that the scandal has negatively affected her relationship with fans.
"The important thing to remember is that her fan base is rabid. Her Facebook fan base has more than doubled in the past year," he told the WSJ. "The Paula Deen brand is alive and well."