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Paula Deen Is Cooking Up a Comeback

Paula Deen Is Cooking Up a Comeback
Image credit: Shutterstock

It’s a nation of second chances, y'all.

After facing some heat, Paula Deen is getting back in the kitchen. And the private equity firm Najafi Companies is wagering that Deen’s cloying brand -- radically tarnished by her racial remarks last summer -- still has legs.

The Arizona-based company has tendered a roughly $75 to $100 million investment in the recently-formed Paula Deen Ventures, with the intention that Deen will move away from pure licensing deals and instead pursue partnerships in which she “hopes to take more ownership,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

Related: How A&E Ducked the Duck Dynasty Controversy

Deen has tapped food industry veteran Steven Nanula to serve as her new company’s chief executive. He declined to name potential partners, but told The Journal that Deen is in talks with several television networks and retail chains, with a host of other prospective deals on her platter.

Once adored for her grandmotherly disposition, Southern-style recipes and affinity for eating whole sticks of butter, Deen’s career veered sharply off course when she admitted to using the N-word and longing to plan a “southern plantation” wedding featuring an all-black male wait staff.

Related: Lessons from Paula Deen: How What You Say Can Damage Your Brand

The statements emerged during a lawsuit filed by a former employee alleging racial and sexual discrimination, which was eventually dismissed. Deen’s career, however, would be forever marked.

While the majority of her corporate partners including the Food Network, Walmart, Target and Home Depot promptly dropped Deen’s programs and products, a small but rabid fan base materialized, as tickets to Deen’s Caribbean cruise and book sales for her latest recipe tome -- dubbed the New Testament -- surged.

Deen told the Journal that she clings to the “hundreds of thousands of folks who signed up on Facebook’s ‘We Support Paula Deen’ page,” and noted that her magazine subscriptions increased by more than 40 percent last year. She also maintains fruitful business affiliations with Meyer Foods, Universal Furniture and Springer Mountain Chickens.

Related: Ladurée's Sweet Ascent: How a Fad Food Is Spawning an International Empire

Geoff Weiss is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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