Paula Deen’s comeback is gathering some serious steam.
A Phoenix-based private equity group just invested as much as $100 million in the celebrity chef’s brand and has installed Nanco Group’s Steven V. Nanula as Chief Executive Officer of Paula Deen Ventures.
Nafaji Cos., a $2 billion entity that owns BMG Music Service and the Book-of-the-Month Club, plans to revive Deen’s once very lucrative empire. The financial backing will support and grow Paula Deen Ventures, which includes Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Media, Paula Deen Restaurants, Paula Deen Cookware and Paula Deen Home.
Nanula, who serves as CEO of Paula Deen Foods and whose family earned success with the Tops Friendly Markets and Wilson Farms chains, will be at the helm overseeing it all.
The company is also in talks to get a Deen-centered TV show back on the air. Deen has appeared on her sons’ Cooking Channel TV shows, but hasn’t had a show of her own since the Food Network cancelled it in June after news broke that Deen had used racial slurs in the past.
Deen first partnered with the Nanula family two years ago to develop Paula Deen Foods, a line of packaged foods, spices and sauces. In June, when retailers such as Home Depot and Wegmans dropped Deen’s products in the wake of the racism scandal, the Nanulas sent out a statement in full support of Deen.
Deen recalled that support in front of a sold-out crowd of enthusiastic supporters at an appearance at Samuel’s Grande Manor Saturday.
“We’re only looking to the future. And with a family like the Nanulas that have loved me unconditionally and who have believed in me, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life,” Deen said.
Jahm Najafi, founder and CEO of Najafi companies, cited Deen’s “quality products” and “loyal fan base” as indicators of the brand’s future success.
Deen certainly has strong support among fans. She has more than 1.2 million followers on Facebook – that’s more than Rachel Ray, who has a daily cooking show on CBS.
Standing-room only crowds have greeted Deen’s appearances in Texas and Buffalo.
“I just love her,” said Judy Ingrassia, a Buffalo fan who attended Saturday’s appearance. “She didn’t get a fair shake.”
In the thick of the scandal, pre-sales of her book “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Recipes, All Lightened Up” sent her to the top of Amazon’s best sellers list, months before publication. Despite the demand for the book, publisher Ballantine Books declined to publish it. Deen has sold 8 million copies of her 14 other cookbooks.
Despite being dropped by several retailers, Deen’s product – through partnerships with Meyer Corporation, Universal Furniture and Springer Mountain Chickens – have seen sales grow 35 percent over the past two quarters, Najafi Cos. said. Subscriptions to Paula Deen Magazine have increased 40 percent.
Deen cut the ribbon on the Paula Deen store on Main Street in Clarence Saturday, a public store which will also serve as the offices of Paula Deen Foods and a retail showroom.