The headline in today’s local paper reads “Publisher drops Deen cookbook.” “The Perils of Paula” has been all anyone in Savannah has been talking about for the past ten days. In case you have been hibernating, you know that local Savannah restaurateur-made rich-and-famous Paula Deen has been under attack ever since the contents of a deposition were made public, in which she admitted using the “N-word” some 30years ago.
I am of two minds on this issue. My first reaction was this was an incredibly disproportionate reaction to a three-decade old petty misdemeanor. I mean – come on! Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. I am not condoning the utterance. I just think this is a case of capital punishment for a parking ticket. I feel sorry for Paula. She actually lives around the corner from us, and occasionally we’ll see her shopping in Publix.
On the other hand, to borrow another cliché, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” In this case, the sword is the combination of publicity and image. Paula built her food empire and her fortune based on image and publicity. It’s not like she is the greatest chef in the world. Her folksy “Southern charm” made her the queen of The Food Network. Once she caught on, her momentum just kept building. But that kind of fame and image can be like a balloon – big and voluminous, but of little of substance. One leak and the whole thing disappears.
Paula did not do a good job protecting that balloon from lurkers with needles. The damning deposition originates in a lawsuit related to a restaurant Paula created for her brother, Bubba. We know a number of people who have worked at “Uncle Bubba’s,” and they tell us that things were run pretty loose there. I have no idea of there is any merit to the actual lawsuit filed by one of Bubba’s former managers, but it is safe to say that the operation was not squeaky clean. That is not unusual for restaurants, and in most cases, it doesn’t matter — unless you are Paula Deen and you have a mega-million business riding almost entirely on your image. You must make certain there is no one lurking in the background with a hat pin looking to burst that giant balloon. Apparently, she did not do that, and that is her biggest mistake. Too bad.