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Paula Deen Starts Her Comeback With a Family-Style Restaurant Near Dollywood

Hoping to rebuild her badly tarnished career, the former Food Network star is opening a massive eatery in a tourist town in Tennessee.
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Paula Deen and Dolly Parton don’t have much in common on first glance -- other than some seriously big hair -- but they are about to be business neighbors.

Deen’s holding company, Paula Deen Ventures, said this week that its first business would be a restaurant called Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. The expansive family-friendly establishment will be 20,000 square feet and will have a yearly operating budget of nearly $20 million, according to a statement from the Savannah, Ga.-based holding company.

Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen will be located in in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and will be part of the restaurant and retail real-estate project called The Island in Pigeon Forge, nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and home to the Dollywood theme park. Deen’s new eatery is expected to open at the end of the summer.

Earlier this month, Arizona-based private equity firm Najafi Companies invested between $75 million and $100 million into Deen’s holding company. Deen’s brand was badly smeared by her confession to having used the racial slur, the N-word and having fantasized about having a plantation-style wedding with an all-black wait staff.

Related: Paula Deen Is Cooking Up a Comeback

Her blunder, and subsequent apologies, did not deter the Savannah-Ga.-based chef and television personality’s devoted following.

“We know that sharing Paula’s love and hospitality with her beloved fans and friends will be a great addition to our new development in Pigeon Forge,” said Darby Campbell, one of the developers of the development project, in the statement. Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Hotel and Build-A-Bear will also be part of the development.

Pigeon Forge is a heavily trafficked tourist area with more than 10 million visitors a year and 2.5 million overnighters.

“This restaurant and retail expansion is a 'sweet spot' for Paula Deen Ventures,” says Steven Nanula, the CEO of Paula Deen Ventures. Paula Deen’s restaurant The Lady & Sons, which she founded with her sons Jamie and Bobby Deen, is still a hot spot in Savannah. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that restaurant.

Deen’s thick Southern accent and passion for all things fried, buttered and fried again are the foundation of the brand that launched her career. She has sold 8 million copies of her 14 cookbooks. 

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