Friday, June 20, 2014

Paula Deen in the Digital Kitchen

It's been some time now since Paula Deen was called out for her use of "the N word" and she has put that scandal behind her. Before she was accused of racism, however, she was also called out for failing to disclose a relevant medical condition: Type 2 diabetes.

For ordinary, non-celebrity folk, medical conditions are private, and while I feel that celebrities are entitled to their privacy, the conflict here was Paula Deen's promotion of dishes high in fat, salt and sugar – a diet that contributes to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

That revelation put a ding in her empire, but it was the use of the 'N' word that resulted in her being let go from her show on Food Network, as well as the loss of several lucrative deals with retailers who sold her wares. Paula Deen had fallen, and she couldn't get up.

Until now.

Deen is building a new empire and dubbing it Paula Deen Ventures. One project is an online cooking show. But if you want to watch her unscripted program, posted daily, it's going to cost you.

This venture is based on paid subscriptions, and Deen is betting that there are enough people out there willing to shell out their hard-earned money to watch her cook to make this enterprise profitable.

The Investment
Phoenix-based investment firm Najafi Cos. is putting a sizable chunk of change into Paula Deen's comeback – somewhere between 75 and 100 million dollars. Of course, the venture isn't just an online show; it includes cookware, restaurants, foods, and all the accoutrements of a foodie empire.

But more than that, I think, Paula Deen is investing her persona into this. She's looking for vindication, perhaps, or proof that she is a true southern belle, a woman of charm and substance, an icon that is worthy of fame and fortune. If she can't reclaim her status as Paula Deen the Queen of Southern Cooking, then all the money in the world isn't going to matter.

My father, who was fond of platitudes, used to say, "Steal my purse, you steal nothing; Steal my reputation, you steal everything."

This, I think, is what happened to Paula Deen. Her reputation not as a cook, but as a gracious hostess, as a woman of the world who welcomed all to her kitchen, is damaged. This is the empire she lost. The name Paula Deen is now synonymous with racism and disease.

If She Builds It, Will They Come?
The question now is will her loyal followers pony up the cash to watch her cook? Will they buy her merchandise and her cookbooks in support of her comeback? Will the public once again hail the Queen of Southern Cooking and allow her to re-claim the reputation that was lost?

Can Paula Deen offer the public millions of dollars' worth of southern charm? Will she persuade retail giants, global networks, and the Internet people of the world that she is, indeed, worth the investment?

I don't know. But that is one expensive reputation she's looking to buy.