The Great American Second Chance Machine cranked into motion this week with the announcement that Paula Deen is prepping a comeback. Just last summer the celebrity chef saw her empire toppled by revelations of racism and allegations of sexual harassment, but the queen of southern cooking is back with a newly formed company, Paula Deen Ventures, and a considerable sum of financial support.
Deen has partnered with private equity firm Najafi Cos and received a reported $75 million to $100 million cash infusion to “build and grow” the venture. The Phoenix-based company specializes in the rehabilitation of troubled brands and businesses that are “out of popular favor,” which for Deen includes Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Restaurants, and Paula Deen Media, all of which have suffered in the past year of scandal management.
In June Deen was unceremoniously dropped by the Food Network in the wake of controversy from a deposition where she admitted to use of the “N”-word in reference to African-Americans and that she wanted to arrange a “plantation-style Southern wedding.” She apologized in a series of bizarre videos posted on YouTube where she begged for forgiveness and insisted that a person’s “skin color, religion and sexual preference” didn’t matter to her.
Deen, 67, also made a tearful appearance on The Today Show with Matt Lauer where she said that she was not a racist, but was unsure whether the “N”-word was offensive to black people. She expressed that she felt the Food Network’s decision to terminate her contract was wrong and that she would not have fired her for the offense. Within hours of the interview, however, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, Home Depot and QVC had all announced they would stop selling Paula Deen branded products.
In 2012 Deen found herself embroiled in controversy after announcing that three years earlier she had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and was being paid as a spokeswoman for the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk whose main export is insulin. Deen was called out for her hypocrisy in promoting a high fat and sugar diet while failing to disclose her own medical condition. Novo Nordisk was also one of the companies that dropped Deen following her admitted use of racial slurs.
Unfazed by the controversy, Jahm Najafi, founder and CEO of Najafi Companies who also happens to be Iranian-American said, “All of us at Najafi Companies have a deep respect for the hard work, unique content and quality products which Paula has built around her brand.” In fact, he doesn’t see investment as a huge risk at all telling The Wall Street Journal, “The important thing to remember is that her fan base is rabid.” He’s confident that “the enterprise will be successful and valuable,” and he’s probably right, because when has the American Dream ever been hampered by racism and deceit?