TV chef Paula Deen opening new restaurant

Several weeks after announcing a new investor and business venture, Savannah-based TV celebrity chef Paula Deen’s name will be on a new restaurant and retail operation in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Paula Deen Ventures said the operation will be at The Island in Pigeon Forge, a real estate development near country singer Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The restaurant, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, and retail site is expected to be a $20 million project that will open in late summer of this year. The TV chef already operates The Lady & Sons on W Congress Street in Savannah.

Earlier this month, Deen announced a multimillion-dollar investment from a private equity company that is part owner of Phoenix Suns NBA team.

Content distributor Najafi Media will invest $75 million to $100 million in Savannah-based Paula Dean Ventures, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company comprises Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Media, Paula Deen Restaurants, Paula Deen Cookware and Paula Deen Home.

Najafi Media is an affiliate of Najafi Cos., headed by founder Jahm Najafi, whose strategy is to sometimes invest in enterprises that have fallen out of favor.

Deen’s celebrity status took a hit last year after she acknowledged in a deposition that she had used racial slurs in the past. The admission, revealed during a lawsuit filed by a former employee, led to Deen’s Food Network show being canceled and the loss of dozens of product endorsements, including Smithfield Foods.

Recently at the 13th annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami, Deen thanked a crowd of supporters and hollered, “I’m back in the saddle!”

In addition to an ownership stake in the Phoenix Suns, Najafi owns the BMG Music Service, Columbia House DVD, BOMC2.com, Doubleday Book Club, and Book of the Month Club through its Direct Brands business.

Paula Deen Venture CEO Steven Nanula said the company continues to explore other expansion opportunities.

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