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Group working to bring Paula Deen museum to Albany

Paula Deen

Paula Deen

ALBANY, Ga. -- Even in this golden age of celebrity, few names loom larger than Paula Deen's.

The queen of down-home cooking, who's become such a star she's now a regular target of sniping tabloids and gossip rags looking to cash in on her popularity, has charmed her way into the frenzy of modern-day pop culture, whose ground zeroes are New York and Los Angeles, without losing those Southwest Georgia-ingrained qualities that allow her to relate to Joe and Jane Average Citizen.

"I think you can say I'm living proof that the American Dream exists," Deen said in a phone conversation with The Albany Herald from her Savannah home. "I'm proof that if someone will roll up their sleeves and go to work ... Well, if I can do it -- I don't want to say just anyone can do it -- but, yes, almost anyone can, if they have the kind of passion I have about the things I do."

While her adopted home of Savannah, executives of The Food Network, talk show hosts who love her say-anything wit and glorious Southern accent, and all those foodies across the globe have staked their claim to Deen after becoming addicted to her wildly popular "Paula's Home Cooking," "Paula's Party" and "Paula's Best Dishes" TV shows, she remains an Albany girl, through and through. Some of her most ardent hometown supporters want to make sure the world makes that connection.

Led by businesswoman B.J. Fletcher, who announced recently plans to run for a seat on the Albany City Commission, and Jimmy Deen, Paula's ex-husband who still lives in Albany with his wife, Therlus, a local group is working with city officials to turn Paula Deen's childhood home into a museum that they hope will attract her legion of fans to her hometown.

"It just takes my breath away that folks back in Albany would consider doing something like this," Paula Deen said of the plan, which she has given her blessing. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around this incredible honor. I would want something like this to be a symbol of hope for people looking to make their lives better."

Fletcher said she has been working with Jimmy Deen and others for more than a year to breathe life into the museum. Their efforts took a giant leap recently when a group purchased Paula Deen's Whitney Avenue home with the intent of turning it into the museum.

"This is something I started working on 1 1/2-2 years ago," Fletcher said. "Even before I got into the mayor's race (which she lost in a runoff to Dorothy Hubbard in 2011), I started talking with Jimmy Deen about doing this to honor Paula. I saw it as something to help our downtown; what other name is going to bring people here off the Interstate?

"I wrote a letter to Paula and explained what we wanted to do, and Jimmy told me she was deeply touched by the letter. When I texted Jimmy and told him (the group) had closed on Paula's house, I got a voicemail from him telling me I should call Paula. He gave me her private number."

When Fletcher called Paula Deen to talk further of plans for the museum, the celebrity chef immediately started throwing out ideas for the facility.

"She told me she had a lot of the original furniture from that house," Fletcher said. "I told her I'd heard she had a great passion for Albany, and she started talking excitedly about being involved in the museum project."

Jimmy Deen, who with sons Jamie and Bobby and then-wife Paula started the family's first cooking venture -- The Bag Lady, which cooked and delivered food for businesses in Savannah -- said he's pleased to see Albany officials reaching out to Paula Deen.

"It's great that Albany is embracing Paula for all she's accomplished," Jimmy Deen said. "I've talked with her, and I know if the city reaches out to her, she's going to reach back. I certainly hope this is something that works out because the tourism (a museum) would generate could help return Albany to what it used to be."

Downtown Manager/Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority President Aaron Blair said Tuesday he plans to meet with the group working on plans for a Deen museum to try and move the concept forward.

"It's been discussed for a while now, but I was waiting to be sure that it's something Paula would support," Blair said. "I understand she's pretty much given her blessing, and the group purchasing her former home is a big step. We're looking at possibly moving the house to land near Thronateeska (Heritage Center), and since it's a potential tourist attraction, I would expect ADICA would work jointly with Thronateeska and the Convention and Visitors Bureau on this project.

"I think there's a great opportunity to turn this into a unique attraction that would be an asset to our downtown."

City Manager James Taylor said he expects Blair and other city officials to step up discussions on the proposed project now that Deen's former home has been purchased.

"That house holds so many memories for me," Paula Deen said of the Whitney Avenue residence. "All the cheerleader cookouts, the spend-the-night parties. ... And it just so happens I can pretty much furnish it like it was. I still have mama's living room set and daddy's -- they had separate rooms later on because daddy had to sleep with a night light on and mama couldn't.

"I'm just so excited about the possibilities."

Comments

chinaberry25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Why? She left Albany and never looked back. I cannot think of one thing she has done for Albany other than those $250 tickets to that one charity. The tickets are so high it keeps the average person from attending. I like Paula and admire her, but museum, we already have one or two that is losing money.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Why not? Julia Child's kitchen is in the Smithsonian.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Because Julia Child was a real cook. I think any true southern woman can cook the so called southern cooking that Deen cooks. I was brought up on Yankee food but the best I have had in the US is southern cooking, and I have lived in many areas of this great land. By the way, I read the sexual harassment case against her brother, Earl, was sent to federal court for review. I wonder if it was ever settled.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 1 week ago

Yankee food sucks! The only thing you can taste is cod fish when it is cooked with spices. Boston baked beans have to be spiked with green peppers or cinnamon with brown sugar and Southern bacon to rank with shredded paper. Scrapple, the PA Dutch's answer to gelled brains and spam with fodder. God forbid. Come aboard and don't sink into the gutter on this, whatagirl.

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rock 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Are you freaking kidding? Who is going to fund this idiotic endeavour?

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dickyboy 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Let Paula fund it.....she's got more money than Albany...

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Sherwood_Eagle_Alum 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I heard the museum is going to feature a bronze statue of her holding a stick of butter.

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iko 11 months, 2 weeks ago

This is easy: let's get ADICA to fund it with borrowed money, get Phil Cannon to "supervise" it, and hire a convicted felon to run it. Then, convince the idiots on the city commission that it will be "self supporting."

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VietVet1 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"I'm proof that if someone will roll up their sleeves and go to work ..." LOL there's not much of that in Albany - - - welfare is the norm.

But maybe the bronze statue along side Ray Charles would bring even more tourist. BTW, when are all the tourist suppose to show up to visit the Ray Charles statue?

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dingleberry 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I guess they are still waiting for the Hwy 133 four-lane project. Perhaps we would do better with a bus tour of government sponsored housing projects to see where poverty is born and nurtured.

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RedEric 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I like Paula. I like her story. She is a winner who won by working hard. She didn't cheat anyone. She didn't get a government grant. That is on the unusual side in this area.

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FlunkyMonkey 11 months, 2 weeks ago

She won't even acknowledge that she is from Albany. It is always some general reference to South Georgia and this is just one more useless attraction the City will wind up funding. In the last ten years, the only thing built in this city worth a **** is the RiverQuarium. This is one resident that won't be going....

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oldster 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Paula Deen was from Albany, graduated from Albany HS and is a popular and wonderful cook. A museum is a nice thought. But in reality I don't see enough people driving 35 miles off Interstate 75 just to stroll through a museum dedicated to her, and she won't even be there to cook for them. If it is built with all private money and someone is willing to take the risk...fine. No public money should be invested in this as Albany and Dougherty County have enough debts to worry about.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"No public money should be invested in this as Albany and Dougherty County have enough debts to worry about."

Yes. If it's done, do it through private money.

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dingleberry 11 months, 2 weeks ago

OK ya'll. Let's have a bake sale to raise money and put it next to the National Prayer Museum. As a visionary, I can see it now! Get a combo ticket to the Butter is Better Museum, fish the RQ "bottomless hole", celebrate "Everyday is Diversity Day" at the ACRI, and have lunch and a glass of white wine with those who work the drey line, all for $8.95 tops. EBT cards prefered, no cash taken.

Kidding aside, I do agree with RedEric that she is an interesting success story paid for through hard work. But really ya'll, a museum? . .

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"National Prayer Museum" Where did that snake oil salesman wide up?

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Albanite 11 months, 2 weeks ago

He insulted the wrong people. Last we read about him in the Herald, I believe the article said he defaulted on his debts and was living with his mother.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh, please elaborate. I have not heard about him. Can you clue me in as to a name and I will research it.

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iko 11 months, 1 week ago

Who are you talking about? "Defaulted on his debts and living with his mother"? Is that Toilet Bowles' son from the Quail thing? Elaborate, please.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank you, BJ. I know you worked hard on this project and I am glad to see your dream coming true. Don't listen to the "Debbie Downers" on here. YOU are making a positive impact on this community and people like me thank you for it. Keep your head held high and know you do have supporters out there who love you and what you do for this city. Thank you.

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OUTsiderLookingINalbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

"We're gonna add a lil bit of butter.... MMM MMM, now thats good"

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Jimboob 11 months, 2 weeks ago

With whipped cream and canned whipped cream...

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

How many people will visit this museum?

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh a first a lot will visit. Then it fizzle out and people will stop going, just like all the other museums in Albany....most likely. Will you go? I won't.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Not Likely! Only museum I ever visited was the Spy museum and Smithsonian museum in Washington DC in 2007.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Goodness you can spend days at the Smithsonian. We went years ago and it took us 3 days of museum viewing and did not even get to all of the things to see. What a treasure we have in them.

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Albanite 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Worst idea ever. You could put a Paula Deen RESTAURANT in Albany and it would fail.

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Amazed2 11 months, 2 weeks ago

YeA she if famous for high calorie butter rich fat cooking. Unfortunately people that eat this style of cooking are prone to be Overweight, High Cholesterol and Diabetes. A year or so back even Paula Dean was found to have diabetes from being overweight. I think she has had to modify her own diet due to her health problems. Guess she should have a tax payer funded museum downtown. Maybe she will lend her name to a new restaurant. Like "Paula's Butter Place"

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

REPEAT: Wow! You "Negative Nillies" are out in full force this week. Nothing positive will happen in Albany with that kind of attitude. How about being apart of the solution instead of insulting and staying miserable. Must be a lonely life for you folks.

I use to be that way until I became apart of the solution. Some of these people work very hard and for free to help the community. Trust me, you will be a happier person if you didn't always put everyone down and what they do for this town.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 11 months, 2 weeks ago

We need another "museum" in Albany about as much as we need another 100 welfare "families" on the dole rolls.

What we need in Albany is business which is looking for an eager, skilled, educated, and prepared WORK FORCE and an attractive TAX STRUCTURE. HELLO????!!!!!!!!???????

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

That time has come and gone. Albany must rebrand itself and people in the community are going to have to do for themselves and create businesses instead of waiting on something BIG to come. But keep waiting on that, Ruby... Stop living in the past and make yourself a future. Some people are doers and some aren't. I guess you are not a doer from the way your comments read.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm a "DID......now YOU DO!!" Got that smart***?

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

You hide behind your fake name and call me a smart***. My name is Tami McCoy and you are welcome to say that in my face. Let's see how cowardly you are now.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

So a Paula Deen museum is the answer to all of Albany's problems? They'd be just as good getting a mobile museum. That way they can drive it down here, give people about a week to visit and then wheel it back out of here because that's probably about as long people would visit it anyway.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Well food trucks are very popular now so maybe a Paula Deen Mobile Food Truck/Museum? You may be on to something big VSU. People will buy food from a truck I bet, if the price is right.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Ha Ha, They could tour the museum and eat a Paula Deen meal at the same time.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Look, some of you folks just don't understand. Southern Cooking and Paula Deen might require a little effort to wrap your cerebral cortexes around. Southern Foodways Alliance is an organization dedicated to the preservation of Southern food, manners, customs, values, etc. The group does it fundamentally through the force of food and the life styles that emanate. It is a huge success! They put on seminars several times a year and meet in the fall at Oxford, Mississippi. People are turned away it is so wildly popular. They come to hear some black cook from Tennessee to talk about making gravy or John Folse demonstrate frying chicken. NASCAR drivers come and talk about how important sugar was to the beginning of auto racing and how they started out as ridge runners in North Carolina hauling whiskey and ferrying sugar to their grand pappy's cottage industry. Folks pay nice sums to participate in a program that goes all over the UNITED STATES. We went to a soul food restaurant in New York City. Guess what? Other restaurant chefs showed up and you would be surprised how many fancy places serve collards and black eyed peas now. Google http://southernfoodways.org/.

Biographical sketches: "John T Edge is the author or editor of more than ten books, including the foodways volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Cornbread Nation: the Best of Southern Food Writing, and Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South. He also writes for a range of different publications, including the New York Times."

"Mary Beth Lasseter is a South Georgia native. She has a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and she wrote a thesis on Elvis for her Southern Studies M.A. from the University of Mississippi. Work for her Ole Miss M.B.A. was not nearly so much fun, though it has proven useful as she crunches numbers, answers e-mails, and plans events for the SFA. Favorite foods include fried pimiento cheese, Moon Pies, and pig. She resides in Vicksburg, Mississippi, with her engineer husband, Ned, their son David, and their Viking cookware."

Paula Deen has a wide following and rivals "Martha" in the kitchen.

BJ Fletcher may be on to something. Successful IPO's start up everyday. With the right plan this could be a good thing. I don't think it would bring the second coming but don't dismiss it without really having a look-see.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I read about the SFA once when in a doctor's waiting room. It was either in Southern Living magazine or Better Homes and Gardens. To say some of us need to have a bit of a kick start concerning Paula Deen and southern cooking is an insult. First, it is a matter (in my case since I don't live in Albany so don't have to watch the money be wasted) of opinion. You either give your opinion or not. I chose to give mine. As far as dining in places one would not think southern food was appreciated...I have been all over Europe and you may be surprised at some of the places you may see the food of the south. I have had grits from Italy to Scandanavia and they were surprisingly good. Last spring in Paris I even had what was listed as southern fried chicken that would knock your socks off. Food is food and personalities are personalities and one may have an opinion on that too. As far as Paula Deen being on an even keel with Martha Stewart, altho I don't care for either's personality, I think Martha has Paula beat by a few furlongs.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

You are certainly welcome to your opinion. I don't disparage Martha Stewart but in the kitchen and for subject matter you are just flat wrong. If you chose to take what I said as an insult that's you're problem. You've actually made my case about the wide regard for Southern cooking. It doesn't take a genius to realize the opportunity here with good planning and hard work which is what I don't think you realize or perhaps you are not capable of grasping.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Yes, it is my opinion and I know I am entitled to it. Actually I don't give a rip if a museum is built in her honor but I think it would be a mistake to ask the citizens of Albany and DoCo to bear the burden of building it. Yes, I am sure someone with the skills to become project manager for such an endeavor would be great, but from what I have read so far in most of the posts, Albany and DoCo don't have a very good record...ie...the Civic Center for one....of planning or maintaining anything in the city. Poster oldster said it best when he asked how many people were willing to take a detour off I-75 to come to Albany to look at Deen's museum.
Remember what opinions are like...we all have one.........Mrs. Dilligaf

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FryarTuk 11 months, 1 week ago

whatagirl, No it does not look like you give a f. Trite closedown. But I believe that is your problem, you don't give a f.

Do you think the productive, capable citizens who are invested in this community are going to surrender to the corruption of ignorance and politics?

Look at DCSS if you think so.

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agirl_25 11 months, 1 week ago

Dear Richard Cranium...I said I don't care if a museum is built....not my tax dollars that are going to be flushed away. I for one, and there are others on here who have posted, say the same thing...."we won't go the museum." I really can't see something like a PD Museum being built, but if by chance donor money pays for it, I still don't see it as a viable moneymaker, able to stay open. It would be wrong to burden the taxpayers with something like this in my opinion since there are so many complaints now of taxpayer money spent on someone's folly. Sincerely, I remain, Mrs. Dilligaf

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FryarTuk 11 months, 1 week ago

Trite gal, no one would expect you to participate or give a f***k! Even if you did I doubt it would be of value or significance. It appears as the exposure you claim from world travels did you much good. It would be unfortunate if tax dollars sponsored any of your experiences.

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