Paula Deen looked cooked last year when racist statements made in the past took her off television and sent advertisers scurrying, but not the southern chef is on the road to a comeback.
Paula Deen Ventures, a company that includes Paula Deen Foods and Paula Deen Media, announced Wednesday that it received a cash infusion of between $75 million and $100 million from investment firm Najafi Companies.
The Phoenix-based Najafi Companies was started by Jahm Najafi, owner of BMG Music Service. Najafi said his company has a “deep respect” for the Paula Deen brand and its loyal fan base.
Deen’s company appears to be on the upswing. The company just named a new CEO, former Paula Deen Food Company head Steven Nanula. The new CEO said is is working on deals with television networks, retail chains, and other companies.
“I couldn’t imagine a better partner than Jahm Najafi, with his track record of success. Jahm’s vision, attention to detail and entrepreneurial spirit will help us grow to new heights,” Deen said in a statement. “Jahm and Steve are both so well respected as leaders. I know this is the right decision to lead my team, as we continue to share quality products with my fans — whose love and support have built my brands.”
Deen has come a long way from last summer, when a lawsuit was filed by two of her employees at a Savannah, Georgia, restaurant over alleged racial and sexual discrimination. The suit was eventually thrown out and Deen settled out of court, but the proceedings led to Deen’s admission that she used racially insensitive language in the past.
But with a strong base of followers and a short attention span for some others, Paula Deen can still make a comeback, said Larry Woodard, Graham president and CEO of Stanley Advertising.
“She resonates with her core fans based on the authenticity of her culinary expertise. That didn’t go away, and this investment will give permissibility to that audience,” said Woodard, advertising columnist for ABCnews.com.
Fans have already showed their love for Paula Deen. In her first public appearance since the scandal broke, Deen visited the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show in Houston, Texas, and received a standing ovation.