Paula Deen had been digging her own grave for quite a while. It started with unprecedented usage of butter, deepened to an ironic case of diabetes (and an even more ironic endorsement deal with a diabetes drug company), and she finally dug herself to China when a legal dispute with a former employee led to revelations that she had used racial slurs in the past, after which her millions of dollars in endorsements and book deals and contracts crumbled like a shortbread cookie.
But just when we thought she had finally lay herself down in the bed she’d made (although not without tearful apologies) she decided to come back from the grave in a self-proclaimed “comeback.”
Now nearly a year after the hullabaloo, Deen made a reappearance at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival where she drank some tequila, apologized some more, made chicken and dumplings, and then rode off stage on the Food Network Star, Robert Irvine’s (host of Dinner Impossible) back. Either Paula Deen is really aware of her internet presence or she was just too tired by the unrelenting press to walk off stage on her own.
On the time between her downfall and her now apparent comeback, Deen was quoted on CNN saying “If it wasn’t for my fans’ love, I’d be home breathing into a paper bag,” Deen says. “When I woke up each morning, it was like my world was crashing down again. … I’m fighting to get my name back.” She is actually physically and emotionally struggling to get out of the metaphorical bed she’s made for herself and it seems there a few who are willing to help her out.
But even if she hasn’t got much moral support, she certainly has the monetary support. Deen has founded a new company, Paula Deen Ventures, with a reported $75 million to $100 million in funding from a private equity company called Najafi Cos. who “seeks to make strategic investments in undervalued assets.” So instead of Paula Deen the celebrity chef, we may be dealing with Paula Deen the relentless business shark.
When everyone loved Deen she licensed her name to whichever company wanted it on things: muffin toasters, spatulas, and Serta mattresses. Then the love stopped, and so did the money. Now, Deen is consolidating the business in the hopes that if she pays people enough money to figure it out she can sell profitable amounts of finishing butter (now available at your local Walmart). Even though she has millions to her name again, it is unlikely she will be starring on Food Network any time soon.
And yet despite all the hate, subscriptions to her magazine have increased by 40% in the last year and she still has loyal fans, both the Wall Street Journal and CBS have reported. Perhaps the idea of a comeback and a “back in the saddle” Deen is not so absurd after all. Who’s going to justify the mass consumption of butter if not Ms. Booter and Owl?
Deen’s life was hard until fame made it easier. She was a divorced 18 year old mother of two with $200 to her name, who suffered agoraphobic anxiety attacks that confined her to the house. Now, she’s gone from a Food Network Star with book deals and millions of dollars in endorsements to being the hated diabetic racist old lady who wears too much eyeliner.
It takes some spirit, or a few shots of tequila, to even attempt a chance of crawling out of a grave so deep. Then again, she claimed to identify with that “black gay football player [Michael Sam]” in an interview with People so this comeback may not go as smoothly as she’d hoped. As @JayBaklava eloquently tweeted: “Paula Deen crashing and burning before she rises from the ashes like a Phoenix.”