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Paula Deen cooks up $85M comeback deal

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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Sue L. Wright February 14 2014 at 11:25 AM

You go, Paula. Food Network has never replaced you because you're one of a kind. Much luck.

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imaaudrey February 14 2014 at 10:35 AM

Best of luck Paula. Food Network really threw you to the curb! Shame on them!
We stand beside you!

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dorc792 February 14 2014 at 1:38 AM

ns ...an innocent victum of raceial slurs the blacks thrive on...what would al joelson say?...clarence thomas was rite on in his remarks

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Melissa561 February 13 2014 at 11:47 PM

Good Going Paula I Like Cooking and Love Your Recipes. I KNEW YOU'D MAKE A COME BACK. LOVE YA PAULA

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streetlaw1 February 13 2014 at 11:34 PM

Ms. Deen has taken more shots for a thirty year old incident than anyone else. Might we apply the standard that was applied to her to say...Jesse Jackson or say....Al Sharpton....?

The reality is Ms. Deen is a target. She made herself into something and others want to profit by tearing her down. If you do not like her, do not watch her. If you do not like the food, don't eat at her restaurant. In short, do your thing and stop trashing her.

Are we catisgating the lawyer who made lurid comments about her? Are we going after those who are uncivil daily? Get off the lady's case.

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phymar548 February 13 2014 at 11:25 PM

you go Paul Deen...YEAHHH.. Chris who made a comment before me you need to get a life who's the racist here?? She set her self up to fail are you on crack?? She'll fail all the way to the bank..She'll make million..let the first person stand up and say they have never said some thing rasis..even in their. GIVE the lady a break

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Chris February 13 2014 at 11:18 PM

she's a racist and self-important and arrogant. she set herself up to fail and this company is going to regret sending 75 million in her direction

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sherries0702 February 13 2014 at 11:13 PM

Go Paula Deen! You have an incredible fan base, which includes many who I happen to be friends with. You will be bigger and stronger, then all your wonderful endorsements who decided to bail on you will ultimately want you back, hopefully you turn your beautiful southern butt at them and walk away! I met you a couple of years ago in NY and you were so charming, friendly and approachable, love you woman! Shame on you Food Network!

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Sunny February 13 2014 at 10:55 PM

I always like Paula. Will watch her when she comes back.

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jeanb217 February 13 2014 at 10:43 PM

Good for Paula Deen. I wish her well. What she said was wrong, but she was in a strange situation and it was a different time.

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