The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

June 21, 2013

Could Paula Deen's words bring down her empire?

(Continued)

ATHENS —

Outside of her loyal fans, Deen is now best known as the woman with diabetes who cooks fatty food and has made racially controversial statements, said Matthew Hiltzik, a New York public relations specialist.

"Those are usually not the ingredients — no pun intended — for a successful brand," he said. "However, she has very loyal, dedicated followers who are most likely to accept her apologies and explanations."

Where it will most hurt Deen is in her ability to expand her business, Hiltzik said.

Deen's business expansion began in earnest in 2011, when she began putting out a full line of cookware sold at major retailers including Wal-Mart, food items like spices and even furniture. In addition to her restaurant, The Lady and Sons, she owns a Savannah seafood restaurant with her brother Bubba. There are Paula Deen Buffets at Harrah's Tunica in Mississippi and at Horshoe Southern Indiana Casino, and restaurants at other Harrah's.

Deen's racial statements came to light as part of a deposition in a lawsuit brought by a former manager of Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House, who claimed to be sexually harassed and said the restaurant was rife with innuendo and racial slurs.

Deen was asked in the deposition whether she had ever used the N-word.

"Yes, of course," Deen replied, though she added: "It's been a very long time."

The chef's representatives issued a statement Thursday saying that it was a different time when Deen admitted using the N-word, and she does not condone its use today.

"She was born 60 years ago when America's South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus," the statement said. "This is not today."

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