Celebrity chef and Albany native Paula Deen takes a moment Saturday to pose for a picture with Sierra Wyatt, center, and Shiloh Wyatt of Tifton during a homecoming meet and greet at Turner’s Fine Furniture Store. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
Paula Deen visits Albany March 22, 2014
Paula Deen drew a crowd to Turner's Fine Furniture just north of Albany where she was promoting her new line of furniture on Saturday.
ALBANY — The line snaked through Turner’s Fine Furniture Store on Highway 82 north of Albany early Saturday afternoon. The people clutched cookbooks, photographs and magazines, and they were there for one reason — to meet and greet their celebrity chef diva.
Paula Deen was back home, y’all.
“I am thrilled to be home, because like they say, there’s no place like home,” Deen said. “I’m doing good right now, I had a chance to come back home and spend some time with my three precious grandsons (in addition to plugging her Paula Deen Furniture Line). I’m counting on (son) Bobby to bring us a little girl soon, then it will be payback time for him.”
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Just more than a year ago, the celebrity chef, author and television star was the target of a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination. The case was eventually dismissed, but not before the Albany native had numerous cooking shows, publishing deals and endorsements cancelled, costing her millions of dollars.
Since then, Deen has rebounded with with an investment firm putting a reported $75 million into her new Paula Deen Ventures and the development of a new restaurant in Tennessee. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, a $20 million, 20,000-square-foot restaurant and retail operation, is slated to open in late summer at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.
“The restaurant is a big deal for us, and we’ve been very busy with it. I can’t talk much about it right now, but it will be filled with good food and all my beautiful furniture,” she said.
The people gathered at Turner’s Saturday, however, were not there to talk about food or furniture. They were there because they love Paula Deen.
“We love Paula Deen and think she was done wrong,” Kay Robinson of Washington, Ga., said. “That’s why you see all these people here. We’re here to support Paula.”
Peggy Guillebeau said Deen has been good for Albany and she wanted to express her appreciation.
“She (Deen) has done Albany proud, she’s done us all proud,” Guillebeau said. “She has given back to the community in so many different ways, like GraceWay (a recovery center for women.) I want her to know that we’re 100 percent behind her.”
Sisters Susan and Katherine Salucci, New Jersey natives who now live in Albany, came out to see what the hubbub was all about.
“We wanted to come out and see the famous Paula Deen in person,” Susan said. “We’ve not been disappointed.”
Her sister agreed.
“She’s a star and I wanted to see her,” Katherine said. “Plus I really like her accent and her cooking.”
Mostly, however, the gathering of fans was there to say they stood behind their hometown girl.
“She’s been through a lot over the past year and she lost more money than I’ll ever see,” said Sarah Johnson of Tifton. “I think most of the people here care deeply for Paula Deen and we’re here to let her know we’ve got her back.”
Before the photograph and autograph session, Deen was asked if any progress has been made on a museum centering around her childhood in Albany. City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher has been working with Paula’s ex-husband Jimmy Deen and others for some time to make that dream a reality. Those efforts received a boost last year with the purchase of Paula Deen’s Whitney Avenue home with the intent of turning it into the focal point of a possible museum.
I understand (Fletcher) and a group have bought my old childhood home and want to turn it into a museum,” Deen said. “But I’m not really involved in that right now and don’t know where they are with it.”