Paula Deen cooks up $85M comeback deal

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Paula Deen cooks up $85M comeback deal
Celebrity chef Paula Deen poses for a portrait Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 in New York. Dean recently announced that she has diabetes. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)
Paula Deen standing with various Smithfield meat products, Virginia, Smithfield Foods via PRNewsFoto photo, graphic element on gray
In this Friday, July 20, 2012 photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Food Network personality Paula Deen, left, tugs at her husband Michael Groover's beard outside Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Fla. Groover is participating in the "Papa" Hemingway Look-Alike Contest during Key West's Hemingway Days festival that each year honors the late author Ernest Hemingway. Groover is among 25 finalists, culled from 140 entrants, who are to compete in the final round Saturday night. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)
Celebrity chef Paula Deen, center, and her sons Jamie Deen, left, and Bobby Deen pose for a portrait Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 in New York. Dean recently announced that she has diabetes. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Paula Deen has found a key ingredient to bringing some sizzle back to her career - a cash infusion worth at least $75 million from a private investment firm.

The Savannah-based celebrity cook announced Wednesday that she's launched an umbrella company that will oversee her restaurants, cookbooks, product endorsements and other remaining slices of her media empire. The new company, called Paula Deen Ventures, said private-equity firm Najafi Companies is investing $75 million to $100 million to help Deen make a comeback.

Deen's fortunes took a dive last year after comments she made under oath during proceedings in a lawsuit, namely that she had used racial slurs in the past, became public. The Food Network dropped Deen, as did pork producer Smithfield Foods, book publisher Ballantine and several other companies that paid her to endorse their products.

In a statement, Deen praised the partnership with Phoenix-based Najafi and the decision to name Steven Nanula, who has already worked with Deen for the past two years, to serve as CEO of Paula Deen Ventures.

"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," Deen said.

Jahm Najafi, CEO of the Najafi Companies, said his firm has great respect for Deen's past success and is confident its investment will pay off. Others brands to benefit from Najafi's investments include the Phoenix Suns pro basketball team, the Book of the Month Club and SkyMall, the direct marketing business aimed at travelers.

"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," Najafi said in a statement.

A publicist for Deen told The Associated Press she was not available for an interview.

Deen's image took a crushing blow last summer when a transcript of a legal deposition Deen gave to attorneys in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee was made public. Deen was asked under oath if she had ever used the N-word. "Yes, of course," Deen replied, though she added: "It's been a very long time."

The lawsuit was settled out of court in August. Terms were never disclosed.

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