What really happened to Paula Deen?

Not too long ago, Paula Deen was a relatively harmless figure. Sure, not everyone loved her brand of down home, Southern cooking, but she was still given the respect that comes with celeb status.

Deen was pretty much America's culinary grandmother, with her pleasant demeanor and Southern accent charming her millions of viewers. For a time, she seemed to be living the perfect life. Then, in 2013, everything changed. Accused of racism, Deen's star toppled and she disappeared from the public eye in disgrace. Her name became a running joke in the industry, and even her biggest fans were so horrified that they turned away from Deen. It was a tragic fall from grace, but Deen didn't let it stop her. Though it seemed for a while that she had retired in shame, Deen instead bided her time, all while planning her return to the top. Here's what really happened to Paula Deen

The lawsuit that almost ended Paula Deen's career

To understand how things went so horribly awry, we need to look back to 2013. That year, a discrimination lawsuit was brought against the chef by her former employee Lisa T. Jackson. Jackson claimed that Paula Deen had used the "N word" at work and that Deen's brother, Bobby Hiers, had sexually harassed her. According to the deposition acquired by the National Enquirer (via Business Insider) Deen would also make racist jokes in the workplace. "It's just what they are — they're jokes... most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks," Deen said, refusing to apologize (at the time) for the racially insensitive comments. "I can't determine what offends another person," she said.

Deen also admitted that she had planned a wedding where she intended for her African-American employees to act like slaves while serving the guests. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but not before it had done some serious damage to Deen's reputation. 

A half-hearted apology didn't build any bridges for Paula Deen

Paula Deen made things even worse by trying to excuse her poor behavior. She said that use of the "N word" was common in her era, and that she had simply been echoing the racism of her time. Her company also released a statement trying to put a historical spin on things, attempting to excuse Deen's racism on the basis of her age. "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," said her company. "This is not today."

Deen did try to make amends, but the public was not convinced of her sincerity. In a now-deleted video apology, quoted by Eater, Deen said "I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I've done. I want to learn and grow from this... inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable."

Paula Deen was kicked off the air

The public was in a fury that the seemingly sweet Paula Deen had such a sketchy past, and things started to go downhill for the chef. The outcry was shared by Food Network, which declined to renew Deen's contract after the scandal erupted. While they did not publicly explain why they were letting her go, it seems pretty likely that the network wanted to distance themselves from Deen's tarnished image.

Food Network was far from the only major company that had beef with Deen. The disgraced chef also lost a lot of her other business connections. Ballantine Books cancelled her book deal, even though she had a cookbook set to be released that had become a number one bestseller on Amazon through pre-orders alone. Other companies, including Walgreens, J.C. Penney, QVC, Walmart, and Target, announced that they would not be re-stocking her products once existing inventory had been sold off. 

More shady stuff about Paula Deen came to light

After the scandal erupted, other shady dealings from Paula Deen's past came to light. Her former employee, Dora Charles, revealed a shocking story of how Deen had taken advantage of the African-American woman she had called her friend and "soul sister." Charles worked with Deen for decades as she built up her company, even helping to develop recipes. Deen promised that she would make Charles rich one day, but that never happened. "It's just time that everybody knows that Paula Deen don't treat me the way they think she treat me," Charles told The New York Times. She was living in a trailer park at the time.

Even after Deen hit the big time and had become a Food Network star, she continued paying Charles less than $10 an hour for years. Charles said that she also frequently heard Deen using racial slurs. "I'm not trying to portray that she is a bad person," she said. "I'm just trying to put my story out there that she didn't treat me fairly and I was her soul sister."

Another racist photo made things even worse for Paula Deen

Things might have blown over sooner if it had turned out that Paula Deen's racism really was far in her past. Instead of learning from the mistakes of her youth, however, it seemed that Deen kept quite a few bad habits well into her later years, and may have even passed them on to her kids.

In 2015, a photo from 2011 was posted on Deen's Facebook and Twitter. In it, Deen and her son, Bobby, are dressed up as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo from the classic show I Love Lucy. That might seem harmless until you notice that Bobby painted his face dark brown to portray Ricardo (who was of Latino descent). The public was outraged at the application of brown face, and allegations of racism were again made against both Deen and her son. Deen removed the photo after it proved to be controversial, and fired her social media manager — who she says posted the photo.

Paula Deen makes a killing hosting parties

Over the years, Paula Deen has obviously found ways to make money, even if she no longer has a Food Network show or lucrative partnerships with big box stores. But few of them are making us scratch our heads more than her Halloween Spectacular. In a move that we could never imagine the likes of Ina Garten doing, Deen is making fistfuls of easy money hosting Halloween parties. But here's the kicker: The parties, with 50 random people each, are not at an event center, or even one of her restaurants. They're at her home. According to Eventbrite, "Paula will spend the afternoon mingling with guests, sharing spooky recipes, hosting festive contests, and wrapping up the afternoon with a Halloween party..."

Need proof that Deen's fans have more than forgiven her? The four hour event was so popular that a second date had to be added, and at $400 a pop, the tickets aren't exactly cheap. No saying how much of it goes directly into Deen's pocket, but $40,000 for eight hours of "work" isn't too shabby.

Paula Deen was trying to unload her mansion

Does the listing of her Savannah, Georgia mansion say anything about Paula Deen's financial situation? We may never know the real reason she put up her "Riverbend" property up for sale — whether out of necessity or just to pad her pockets — but we do know that as of October 2019 it hasn't made her a dime.

The massive eight bedroom, eight-and-a-half bathroom, 28,000-square-foot French Provincial estate, complete with two guest cottages, a dock house, 300 feet of waterfront, and countless other amenities, has been on the market since May 2015 when it was listed for $12.5 million. Two years later, the home had still not sold, and the price was reduced a whopping 30 percent — to $8.75 million — but even the massive price drop hasn't prompted a sale. Eventually, it was removed from the market, but chances are she'd still jump at decent offer. Given Deen's current net worth — a cool $14 million, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com — we can probably assume that she can afford it (scandal be damned!), but the next buyer may be looking at forking over about $44,000 per month to live like Paula.

Paula Deen is breaking back into the business world

After being removed from the air, Paula Deen turned her attention to her existing restaurants — and some new ones. In 2014, a year after the scandal, Deen started a new firm, Paula Deen Ventures. Shortly after that she announced a new 20,000 square foot restaurant and store called Paula Deen's Family Kitchen.

The new restaurant helped keep her business afloat. Paula Deen's Family Kitchen soon opened more locations and, as of this writing, operates in Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, and Florida. Scandal or not, Deen was determined to prove that her cooking skills were still deserving of respect. "Paula Deen's Family Kitchen is filled with love and mouthwatering flavors," she said in a press release. "I can hardly wait to bring some of my favorite Southern dishes... to the Great Smoky Mountains. We are going to serve our meals family style, with big ol' bowls on the table, heaping full of fried chicken, collards, fried okra, corn and sweet potatoes."

Paula Deen launched a clothing line with unique features

The news of Paula Deen's scandal prompted announcements from many of her partners that their endorsement deals were over, but that didn't stop the once beloved southern cook from finding new companies to partner with. In 2016, Deen launched a clothing line with Evine, which was something she said she'd been wanting to do for years. "It was a little hard for me to break out of the kitchen because that's how people think of me," she told People. "But if you notice, I never cooked naked. I was always wearing clothes!" Speaking of not being naked, Deen had some very specific requirements for her line: "I don't know how to say this to you in a nice way, but it has to cover my front privates," she said. "I want my shirttail to cover my front privates and hopefully my back, too. I am aware of 'catfish belly' arms. Have you ever seen a catfish? You know how they have a smooth floppy belly on them? Well, that's what we refer to as 'catfish belly' arms." Okay, then...

She also, inexplicably, launched a line of home storage and organization products with Jokari, because who doesn't want official Paula Deen hangars for those shirts that cover your front privates?

A stint on Dancing With the Stars kept Paula Deen in the public eye

In 2015, Paula Deen was once more in the public eye, returning to television as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars. She did not prove to be as good on the dance floor as she is in the kitchen, but her good-natured attitude on the show helped to once again endear her to the public. She took some daring risks on the show, wearing provocative outfits and even flashing her underwear in the middle of a dance. Unfortunately, Deen's edgy moves didn't go over well with the judges and she was eliminated in the sixth week of the show. The chef met her loss with grace and said that she was happy to head home. "I'm excited," she said on air (via Eater). "I get to go see my grand babies."

She added, "It has been such a wonderful journey. It took them a long time to convince me to do this. It was wonderful. It was worth it."

Paula Deen embarrassed her family on a game show

If you thought "front privates" was the only cringe-worthy thing Paula Deen has said since her racist remarks came to light, you would be wrong — so very wrong. She doubled down on the awkward comments during her appearance on Celebrity Family Feud in 2016, when she was asked by host Steve Harvey to "name something people know about beavers." You can probably see where this is headed... 

Before giving her final answer, Deen talked it through to herself, saying, "Well, down south, we got a name for something..." which elicited a forceful "No!" from one of her sons. But then, standing right next to her family, she went for it: "Men like 'em!" *Groan* Both Harvey and son Bobby visibly grimaced, presumably along with the rest of the audience and all of America, prompting her to exclaim, "Wait, maybe I should change my answer, my sons are dying, Steve! I've embarrassed my sons!" Unsurprisingly, Deen's answer was not on the board.

Paula Deen revamped her cookbooks... and got into gaming

Paula Deen also turned her attention to her cookbooks. Starting in 2015, she began releasing new and revamping old cookbooks. In 2015, she released Paula Deen Cuts the Fat, which featured healthier recipes than those included in her previous cookbooks. That same year her very first cookbook, The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook, was re-released. Through 2017, she continued to release or re-release two books a year.

Determined to keep her brand alive, Deen also launched a mobile game in 2015 where players got to play as the chef herself, learning recipes and moving up in the (virtual) restaurant industry as they complete match-three challenges. "I am a gamer at heart and never leave my home without my iPad," she said in a press release. "Paula Deen's Recipe Quest is an incredible and one-of-a-kind game that will allow y'all to cook up a storm with me while solving exciting puzzles. Plus, it's free!"

Paula Deen got into the pet food business

Given the success that fellow celebrity chef Rachael Ray has seen with her pet food brand, it's no wonder that Paula Deen decided to follow suit with a line of her own pet food, treats, and toys in 2015 when she partnered with Hugs Pet Products. "I want to share my love for animals with my fans and fellow pet lovers by creating special products and treats for their pets to enjoy," Deen said. But there's another reason this project is near and dear to her heart...

Announcing the product launch on her website, she wrote, "Y'all know how much I love all my babies, whether furry or feathered. Some of y'all might even know that if it wasn't for my pets, I would never have met my husband Michael." How's that? Well, they credit Paula's dogs for their meeting. According to Delish, they were neighbors when Deen's dogs wondered into his back yard. Talk about a fairy tale...

The truth about Paula Deen's marriage

Rumors have swirled for years that Paula Deen and Michael Groover were headed for divorce, thanks in large part to tabloid reports of Groover's alleged affair with a "sexy middle-age brunette." The fire was further fueled a few years later when Deen granted the deed to one of their homes solely to Groover. At the time, a spokesman for Deen said, "These rumors are completely false — they have a wonderful marriage. This deed of gift was just a part of Paula's estate-planning process."

So what does Deen have to say? She spoke to Radar Online during her stint on Dancing with the Stars, and had nothing but good things to say about Groover. "My marriage has always been good. My husband is so supportive. He has a huge career. He is a harbor pilot. All these ships come in from all over the world and he gets on them and he parks them on the Savannah River. He has been so good about taking time off for me..." she gushed. "He has always been so supportive to take his things and put them aside to be with me."

Paula Deen's Lumberjack Feud

In 2018, the chef opened Paula Deen's Lumberjack Feud in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It sounds like a battle between the chef and a bunch of men wearing plaid, but is actually a popular live show providing wholesome family entertainment. The competitive event features two teams of professional lumberjack athletes who compete in a test of skills, going head-to-head in such events as rolling logs, climbing poles, and other outdoor events. 

Deen isn't the first celeb to have her name attached to Lumberjack Feud. It originally debuted in 2011, and in 2015, country singer Dolly Parton took over before passing the torch over to Deen. According to the Lumberjack Feud website, fans will soon be able to compete in lumberjack events themselves through Lumberjack Feud Adventure. The new Lumberjack Feud feature will boast an aerial playground for kids, a lumberjack-themed adventure park, a zipline roller coaster, and an 80-foot jump tower. 

Paula Deen is easing her way back onto TV

Paula Deen seems to have mostly put the past behind her, and the public is slowly forgiving her. In 2014, she launched the subscriber-based digital network The Paula Deen Network which featured network-exclusive videos of Deen and her guests cooking in front of an audience. In 2016, she began filming her newest television showPositively Paula. The show, which is filmed at the chef's home in Savannah, Georgia, was originally broadcast in 40 areas around the country. "I am so excited to invite my friends from around the country into my home kitchen each week," Deen said at the time  of the show's launch (via Delish). "We are going to have an incredible time cooking up a storm and sharing the most special memories." 

It wasn't too long before the show gained a following and reached a broader audience. Early in 2018, the show entered syndication and began airing on RFD-TV, marking Deen's return to cable programming — and maybe the start of her journey back into our hearts.