Celebrity chef Paula Deen, an Albany native, found a warm welcome Sunday at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. (File photo)
Savannah Morning News
SAVANNAH (MCT) -- Paula Deen, an Albany native whose meteoric rise to fame was derailed last year when she conceded she had used a racial remark some 30 years ago, is back on the fast track with a new company, a big investor and her first major post-crisis enterprise.
Paula Deen's Family Kitchen, a $20 million, 20,000-square-foot restaurant and retail operation, is slated to open in late summer at The Island in Pigeon Forge, a development in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home of Dollywood theme park.
It's the first major investment for the recently formed Paula Deen Ventures, a company announced earlier this month by Deen and the private-equity firm Najafi Cos. in Phoenix, which has committed between $75 million and $100 million to Deen's comeback.
Pigeon Forge has more than 10 million visitors a year, and more than 2.5 million people stay overnight in the city.
"This restaurant and retail expansion is a 'sweet spot' for Paula Deen Ventures," said Paula Deen Ventures CEO Steven Nanula is a statement released Wednesday.
"When we met the team at The Island in Pigeon Forge, we found an entrepreneurial spirit that was very similar to the passion and drive that fueled the growth of Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady & Sons, now celebrating its 25th anniversary."
Bob McManus, one of the Pigeon Forge developers, agreed that the project is a good fit for Deen.
"Together, we can develop Paula Deen retail and restaurants that capture the imagination of Paula's massive fan base and Pigeon Forge's huge tourist community," McManus said.
Deen has sold more than eight million copies of her cookbooks and has 1.2 million followers on Twitter.
Along with the Pigeon Forge project, Paula Deen Ventures is looking at additional expansion opportunities in a range of categories, Nanula said.