Deen gone, but not forgotten

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

Paula Deen — author, business owner, star of the Food Network — is about the biggest name out there these days when it comes to former Albany residents.

I like her showbiz persona and admire her drive to become successful through hard work and persistence, but I’ve never been too intrigued by looking up “all things Paula” here.

However, some people do. In fact, the people at Albany Welcome Center have done quite a few Paula Deen tours when visitors come to town.

Rashelle Beasley, who manages Albany Welcome Center and is interim manager of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, says she has served as tour guide for several motorcoach groups wanting to know more about Paula Deen’s roots.

Beasley said the first stop on her tour is the former First Baptist Church of Albany building on Pine Avenue where Paula got married the first time.

“I tell them that Paula and Jimmy (first husband) got married one Sunday afternoon after church,” Beasley said. “I understand her parents gave her the choice between a big wedding or a stove and a refrigerator. She picked the stove and refrigerator.”

Deen also worked as a bank teller at the building across the street from the church. While stationed at

the Pine Avenue branch of the bank, Paula was asked to work at the bank’s East Albany branch one day.

The one day she was in East Albany, she was the victim of a robbery. Beasley said some people believe that contributed to Deen’s battle with agoraphobia. She suffered panic attacks and, at one time, was confined to her bed.

Agoraphobia is a fear of experiencing a difficult situation while being too far from your comfort zone. It’s much more complicated than that, but that is an overview.

Beasley said she then directs the tourists down Jefferson and points out Graceway, which Deen has supported through personal appearances in Albany.

She also takes them to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital where her sons, Bobby and Jamie, were born. Her youngest son, Bobby, experienced difficulties and had to endure four blood transfusions, Beasley noted.

Beasley then takes visitors to Albany High School where Deen was a cheerleader in the mid-1960s.

“She admits she thought school was more for socializing than learning,” Beasley said.

Several other stops are on the tour, including her former homes.

The Paula Deen tour is not the only specialized tour conducted by folks at the Welcome Center. They’ve also done a Sherwood Pictures tour pointing out Sherwood Baptist Church and the locations where movie scenes have been filmed.

CORNER CAFE: Local restaurant owner B.J. Fletcher is Albany’s version of Robert Ervine.

Ervine is the Food Network’s star of “Restaurant Impossible.” He visits struggling restaurants, at their request, and makes changes to keep them from going under.

Fletcher recently took on that task with Corner Cafe, located in the strip center adjacent to Porterfield United Methodist Church on Dawson Road.

The restaurant was a popular breakfast and lunch spot, and is attempting a return to better times. I initially heard that Fletcher had purchased the restaurant.

That was believable, as she already operates a couple of restaurants in Albany and has her hands in several other business ventures.

However, Fletcher reportedly has been asked by current owners to help them get the business “back in shape.”

She has been offered a 20 percent stake in the business for her help along with a possibility of purchasing the restaurant. Those negotiations are continuing.