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Don't call Paula Deen's return a comeback

Paula Deen isn't on the verge of a comeback. The disgraced chef doesn’t have a new cooking show or a new restaurant. She didn’t land a deal to pitch a new diabetes drug or spice grinder.

No, the Paula Deen of old isn’t returning. Instead, she’s casting aside the past and entering a new phase of her career. Paula Deen the celebrity is giving way to Paula Deen the businesswoman.

She’s formed a new company called Paula Deen Ventures. And she’s received a staggering investment — between $75 million and $100 million — from a private-equity company that specializes in businesses that have lost their cachet.

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 That private-equity company, Najafi Cos., will help Deen move past her former business model — basically selling her name, image and expertise — into what they hope is something much more lucrative. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports, Deen wants more ownership and more control in deals.

This is new territory for Deen, who in the past had little control over the products and partners in her world. Her name was on spatulas, muffin toasters, candles, chicken parts and salad-dressing mixers, Businessweek reports. She licensed her brand to Serta mattresses. Caesars Entertainment opened Paula Deen restaurants in its casinos.

And Deen was reportedly content to sit back and let the money flow in — until it stopped. Major sponsors gave her the boot last year as controversy raged over her past use of racial slurs. Her new cookbook was canceled. She gave a teary apology on “The Today Show,” and then dropped out of the spotlight.

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 But Deen’s fans stayed loyal, and perhaps grew more rabid. She draws standing-room-only crowds when she makes public appearances, and subscriptions to her Paula Deen Magazine have risen more than 40 percent in the last year, The Journal reports.
It’s enough to give Najafi Cos. confidence that those tens of millions of dollars will not go to waste. “The Paula Deen brand is alive and well,” Jahm Najafi, the head of Najafi Cos.., told The Journal.

Deen benefits because she now has more business advisors than she has ever had in her career. Like most buyout firms, Najafi will likely be actively involved in its investment, and will steer it down a path to profits. Deen is reportedly pursuing a new TV deal, but nothing has been announced. Similarly, she isn’t saying anything yet about new retail partners or sponsorships.

Deen has been pummeled by controversy and unceremoniously tossed aside from deals she had very little control over. While she may never again have the adoring television audiences and spotless celebrity status she once had, she’s now learning how to make and sustain smart business deals — and she has $75 million to help her get going.
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