PHOENIX — Celebrity chef Paula Deen is on the comeback trail with a new enterprise that has attracted a multi-million dollar investment from a Phoenix consumer distribution company, Najafi Media.
National media outlets are reporting that Najafi Media’s investment in the Albany native’s new company is between $75 million and $100 million.
Steven Nanula, who for the past two years has led development of Paula Deen Food Company, has been named CEO of the enterprise, which will include Paula Deen Food, Paula Deen Media, Paula Deen Restaurants, Paula Deen Cookware and Paula Deen Home.
“I couldn’t imagine a better partner than Jahm Najafi (founder and CEO of Najafi Companies), with his track record of success. Jahm’s vision, attention to detail and entrepreneurial spirit will help us grow to new heights,” Deen said in a news release issued by Najafi Media. “Jahm and Steve are both so well respected as leaders.
“I know this is the right decision to lead my team, as we continue to share quality products with my fans – whose love and support have built my brands.”
Najafi said he expects the venture to be a success.
“All of us at Najafi Companies have a deep respect for the hard work, unique content and quality products which Paula has built around her brand,” Najafi said. “We know that the enterprise will be successful and valuable, as Paula and her team continue to bring quality products and experiences to her loyal fan base; and now we have a proven management team in place to build and lead the organization.”
Deen’s career suffered a severe blow last year while she was fighting a former employee’s lawsuit. The plaintiff, Lisa Jackson, a white female, claimed racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the suit against Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers. Hiers managed the Savannah restaurant, co-owned by Deen, where Jackson worked.
In a deposition, Deen admitted that in the 1980s when an armed black bandit held up the Albany bank where she was working, she used the N-word in a private discussion with her husband in reference to the robber. The suit was dismissed last August.
Deen’s admission sparked a media firestorm that resulted in Deen losing her longtime cooking shows on Food Network and several high-profile product endorsements, costing her millions of dollars. Target stopped carrying her cookware products and her publisher, Ballantine, dropped her. Deen’s attempt to defuse the situation in an interview on the morning news/entertainment program “Today” did not go over well with viewers.
With the new enterprise that was announced Wednesday, indications are that Deen, who has kept a relatively low profile in recent months, may be looking at re-entering the television market, as well as other arenas. She just completed her winter cruise in January and had a cooking show earlier this month in Buffalo, N.Y. On Feb. 23, she’s scheduled to appear at the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village in Miami, Fla.
“Paula’s deep involvement in developing and bringing great products to market demonstrates her high level of commitment and passion for her business,” Nanula said. “We are excited with the new enterprise to develop progressive business initiatives, as well as to strengthen existing partnerships that include Meyer Corporation, America’s largest cookware distributor; leading furniture manufacturer, Universal Furniture, and one of the nation’s leaders in natural poultry products, Springer Mountain Chickens.”
Before his stint with Paula Deen Food Company, Nanula worked with Tops Friendly Markets, leaving as senior executive of the company where he worked 22 years to open his own company, Logistic Park, which focued on food industry logistics. His family’sNanco group purchased and rebranded retailer Wilson Farms immediately before his association with Deen.
Najafi Companies is an international private investment firm based in Phoenix, with offices in New York, Paris and Toronto. It has holdings in sectors including consumer, media, technology, industrial, energy and real estate across seven countries. Its affiliate, Nijafi Media, is a $2 billion content and consumer distribution company.