Could Paula Deen's words bring down her empire?
FILE - This 2006 file photo originally released by the Food Network shows celebrity chef Paula Dean. Paula Deen’s fans are serving up deep-fried outrage to the Food Network for its decision to dump the Southern comfort food queen after she acknowledged using racial slurs in the past. (AP Photo/ Food Network, file)
NEW YORK (AP) — Paula Deen should hope for more fans like Jennifer Everett of Tyler, Texas, who carried a shopping bag filled with $53 worth of merchandise from the celebrity chef's Georgia store on Thursday. A day earlier, it was revealed that Deen admitted during questioning in a lawsuit that she had slurred blacks in the past.
"Who hasn't ever said that word?" Everett said. "I don't think any less of her. She's super friendly. She's a warm person who wouldn't hurt a fly."
Deen's admission that she had used the N-word in the past wasn't the first time the queen of comfort food's mouth had gotten her into big trouble. She said in 2012 that for three years she hid her Type 2 diabetes while continuing to cook the calorie-laden food that's bad for people like her.
Hypocrisy is one thing, hostility another. From her days as a divorced mother selling bag lunches on the streets of Savannah, Deen has parlayed her folksy, Southern gal charm into an empire that includes Food Network TV shows, cookbooks, magazines and a wide swath of product endorsements.
Now there's at least some risk to that image — and her empire. The Food Network, which began airing "Paula's Home Cooking" in 2002 and added "Paula's Best Dishes" in 2008, has said it does not tolerate discrimination and is looking at the situation. She is one of the network's longest-running and most recognizable stars, although her show airs in daytime — not prime-time. About three-quarters of her audience is female. The network, using Nielsen data, said it did not break down its audience racially.
Deen is also the author of 14 cookbooks that have sold more than 8 million copies and her bimonthly magazine "Cooking with Paula Deen," has a circulation of nearly 1 million, according to her website.
Outside of her loyal fans, Deen is now best known as the woman with diabetes who cooks fatty food and has made racially controversial statements, said Matthew Hiltzik, a New York public relations specialist.
FILE - This Jan. 17, 2012 file photo shows celebrity chef Paula Deen posing for a portrait in New York. It was revealed that Deen admitted during questioning in a lawsuit that she had slurred blacks in the past. It's the second time the queen of comfort food's mouth has gotten her into big trouble. She revealed in 2012 that for three years she hid her Type 2 diabetes while continuing to cook the calorie-laden food that's bad for people like her. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri, File)
"Those are usually not the ingredients — no pun intended — for a successful brand," he said. "However, she has very loyal, dedicated followers who are most likely to accept her apologies and explanations."
Where it will most hurt Deen is in her ability to expand her business, Hiltzik said.