Paula Deen's hitching her wagon to Dolly Parton to try to bury her n-word scandal ... forging ahead with a new restaurant right next to Dolly's amusement park.
Paula Deen's Family Kitchen will open later this summer next to Dollywood in Tennessee -- her first new business venture since last month ... when a businessman pumped $75 mil into Paula's comeback.
Sources connected to the restaurant tell us besides the usual family-style portions of Southern food staples ... Paula's new joint will also feature a retail store to hawk her wares and books.
We're told Paula's spent the last 4 months focusing on all aspects of her business ... and this restaurant is a top priority.
$75 MIllion For Huge Comeback
2/12/2014 12:15 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen -- like the Phoenix -- is rising again ... thanks to a $75 MILLION infusion of cash from a Phoenix-based investment company that could put Paula's wares in the back pocket of airplane seats.
Jahm Najafi clearly thinks the Paula Deen brand is still a marketable commodity, because his company is fronting the cash.
As for Najafi's plan ... we found it extremely interesting that in 2012 he bought SkyMall magazine ... which you've probably leafed through and then failed to buy anything from inside. So the question -- will Paula's pots and pans end up in the mag?
As you know ... Paula was unceremoniously dumped by virtually all of her sponsors after confessing she used the N word to describe a person who robbed the bank she was a teller at in the 80s.
By the way ... in addition to SkyMall, Najafi owns the Book of the Month Club and Columbia House.
2 Years in Prison
9/16/2013 2:01 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
The man who allegedly attempted to extort $250,000 from Paula Deen has just been sentenced to 2 years in prison, TMZ has learned.
As we reported, a man named Thomas Paculis contacted Deen's attorney claiming he would release "true and damning" information about the celebrity chef's n-word usage if he didn't receive a huge check. The FBI tracked Paculis down and he was subsequently arrested and charged with two counts of extortion.
Paculis struck a plea bargain with prosecutors last month, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of extortion. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the remaining count.
Paculis was sentenced today to 2 years in a Georgia prison, plus one year of supervised release and 40 hours community service. He has already been remanded into custody.
Interestingly, the court also ordered Paculis to attend substance abuse counseling. We called Paculis' attorney to find out why -- so far, no word back.
I Don't Need a Comeback
'I Never Went Anywhere'
9/15/2013 7:12 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen is choosing to ignore her epic fall from grace -- telling TMZ, she doesn't need to make a comeback after her n-word scandal ... because she "never went anywhere."
Fact is ... Paula's reputation has been destroyed -- but the celebrity chef is refusing to wave the white flag.
We talked to Paula as she was flying to Houston ... where yesterday she got a standing ovation at a cooking convention, then broke down in tears -- a full 180 from the stiff upper lip routine she gave us.
Interestingly, the person by Paula's side at the airport ... none other than Hollis, her dutiful bodyguard. You may remember the New York Times interview, when she mentioned Hollis was "as black as that board," referring to the black background.
She does have some kind words for 2 Chainz' new cookbook. Mayonnaise and butter, yum!
SOBS at First Public Appearance
After Racist Scandal
9/14/2013 9:21 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen was a big butterball of emotion today during her first public appearance since settling the racial discrimination lawsuit that destroyed her career ... and we've got the pics.
Paula appeared in Houston, Texas today for the Metro Cooking and Entertainment Show to mark her return ... and got choked up after receiving a standing ovation when she hit the stage.
The 66-year old chef told the crowd she had been wanting her return to take place in Texas all along ... and was just shedding tears of joy.
Stars and Scars
You Be the Judge
8/31/2013 9:45 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Lots happened this week ... most notably Lamar Odom slipping deeper into trouble over his addiction. So we gotta ask ...
Dropped from Cooking Expo Ads
Even Though She's Headlining
8/25/2013 12:45 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen is headlining a giant food expo in Houston next month, but you wouldn't know it ... because two huge ticket sellers are REFUSING to put her name or her picture in the advertising, TMZ has learned.
The event is the Metro Cooking and Entertainment Show ... and Paula was supposed to be the main attraction, but sources connected with the expo tell us, Groupon and Livingsocial are actively trying to distance themselves from anything Deen-related.
Instead, the companies are featuring much lesser known chefs on their ads -- like Terry French and Martie Duncan -- and ticket sales are taking a huge hit.
A rep for the expo tells us, "It's more difficult -- I'm not going to kid -- not having those tools [Paula and her sons] to help sell tickets, but we are fighting for Paula."
Paula has been with the expo for 8 years, and the rep says tickets sold much more quickly when the chef was featured on the advertisements ... but not this year ... and there's nothing Metro can do about it (except on its own website).
FYI, the expo will be Paula's first public appearance since she settled the racial discrimination lawsuit filed against her in Georgia.
Reps for Livingsocial and Groupon had no comment.
Racial/Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Dismissed
8/23/2013 1:10 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen has SETTLED the lawsuit that sent her empire crashing to the ground.
Lisa Jackson -- who worked as General Manager at Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House -- filed the suit, claiming racial and sexual harassment. The racial claim was dismissed recently because Lisa didn't have a dog in the fight -- because she's white.
Now Jackson's lawsuit has been dismissed, and all signs point to a settlement. The terms appear to be confidential.
Paula Deen's Husband
WE'RE NOT BIGOTS
Now Gimme Chick-fil-A
8/15/2013 8:05 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Less than two months after Paula Deen went on TV and proclaimed that "everyone should be treated equal" ... her husband Michael Groover was seen walking out of a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
While they do have great food (really great food), is Chick-fil-A REALLY the best place for Paula's hubby to grab a meal ... in the wake of the chef's "I'm not a bigot, please take me back America" campaign?
FYI -- it wasn't too long ago Paula appeared on TV and said, "I believe that every creature on this earth — every one of God's creatures — was created equal, no matter who you choose to go to bed at night with, no matter what church you go to pray. I believe that everyone should be treated equal and that's the way I was raised, and that's the way I live my life."
Just sayin' ...
Wins Racial Lawsuit
That Destroyed Her
8/12/2013 1:17 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
In one of the most supremely ironic court decisions in a long time, a judge just threw out the racial discrimination claim filed against Paula Deen -- the very lawsuit that destroyed the famous chef.
A judge just ruled ... Lisa Jackson had no right to claim racial discrimination, BECAUSE SHE'S WHITE! Any comments that Deen or her cohorts may have made had no legal consequence to her, because she's simply not the right color.
Jackson made a tenuous argument that someone in her family was bi-racial -- something that may not be true at all. But the judge said even if it were true, she was at best an "accidental victim."
Short story -- Jackson ruined Paula with a bogus claim.
The case goes on, because Jackson also claims sexual discrimination, and so far there's not basis to doubt that she's a woman.
I'm Still In Paula Deen's Corner
7/30/2013 3:15 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen has a very powerful ally ... 'cause undefeated boxing champ Laila Ali tells TMZ she's still got Deen's back, even after the n-word controversy.
Right before Deen's kingdom came crumbling down, Laila joined Deen on the Food Network show "Paula's Best Dishes" back in April to cook up some Cloverleaf Rolls, Brussels sprouts, stewed beef and cheese grits.
Since her appearance, Deen has basically been branded a racist due to the fact she admitted using the N-word in private.
So, when Laila and her husband, former NFL star Curtis Conway, rolled into Malibu yesterday, we had to ask how she felt about the disgraced chef.
Considering how important her father is in the African American community ... and the respect he has among all Americans ... Laila's support could be a game changer in Paula's quest for redemption.
I Did NOT Dress Up Black Chef Like Aunt Jemima
7/25/2013 8:35 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Paula Deen is calling BS on a former chef who claims Deen made an African-American employee dress up like Aunt Jemima ... claiming the chef is crying racism in a pathetic money grab.
The woman behind the allegations is Dora Charles -- who ran Deen's kitchens for 22 years and helped open Paula's famous Lady & Sons restaurant in Georgia.
Charles spoke with the New York Times -- and claimed Deen wouldn't just use racial slurs in the kitchens, but wanted to dress up her employees as humiliating stereotypes.
Among the allegations, Charles says Deen tried to make her ring a dinner bell for restaurant customers ... something Charles felt was racially charged.
"That's a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day," Charles said.
Charles also claims Deen tried to make another black female employee, Ineata Jones, dress up in an "old style Aunt Jemima outfit" while flipping hoecakes at a dining station.
But Deen says ... she's not only confident Charles is making the whole thing up -- but claims on July 6, Jones signed a legal document saying she had never felt discriminated against and never heard Deen spout racial slurs during her employment.
Charles has not filed a lawsuit, but claims she wants to get her story out so everyone will know the real Paula Deen.
Deen's camp fired back in a statement saying, "Dora's complaint is not about race but about money. It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen."
Of course, Deen has previously admitted that she used the N-word ... but insists she never directed the slur at any of her employees.
'DWTS' Star Mark Ballas
Producers Could Force Me to Tango With Paula Deen
7/21/2013 12:44 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
If you're a pro dancer on "Dancing With the Stars" and find yourself partnered with a disgraced celeb like Paula Deen ... that's too damn bad ... producers will FORCE you to rumba no matter how much you hate them.
Mark Ballas laid it all out for us on the streets of Hollywood Saturday. Our photog asked him, IF Paula was chosen for the show ... would he take issue cha-cha-cha-ing with her, in light of her n-word scandal?
Mark tells us ... he has NO SAY in the matter whatsoever. Meaning, even if you loathe your celeb ... or find their use of racial slurs questionable ... you better suck it up. Mark explains why.
Which reminds us ...