Paula Deen has become one of America’s most successful celebrity chefs. The 74-year-old entrepreneur has published best-selling cookbooks, opened multiple restaurants, and become an Emmy Award-winning television personality. But she also got herself into some serious hot water back in 2013, and the controversy did not have a positive impact on her career. How did it affect her pocketbook? Here’s an inside look at Paula Deen’s net worth today.
Paula Deen’s Career
Born in Albany, Georgia, on Jan. 19th, 1947, Paula Deen (born Paula Ann Hiers) married husband Jimmy Deen when she was just 18. The young couple had two sons and Deen cooked frequently for the family as she played housewife over the course of her 24-year marriage. But in 1989, the couple divorced and Deen decided to start a catering company to support herself. Run from her home with the help of her sons, the business was called The Bag Lady and functioned primarily as a delivery service for office workers.
“I had become a pretty good cook; after all, cooking was my number one form of entertainment during those years,” Deen explained on her website. “This lady was off and running! And my boys were delivering home-cooked meals to people stuck in their offices all day.”
The Bag Lady was a big success and eventually led Deen and her sons to open their own restaurant in 1991, The Lady & Sons, in downtown Savannah. The success of that spot led to even more booming businesses, including a chain of casino buffets in Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, and Illinois. In 2015, Deen opened Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and the family-style food chain now has six locations total, including restaurants in Florida, Alabama, Missouri, and South Carolina.
As her restaurant success grew, Deen began publishing cookbooks featuring her traditional Southern recipes. She also got the attention of TV personality Gordon Elliot, who was convinced she should have her own show. Elliot helped her land a deal with the Food Network, though Deen admits it took a bit of convincing on the part of the executives.
“Here I was, this gray-headed, older Southern girl who wasn’t a size two and didn’t have a culinary degree,” Deen explained in an interview with Food & Wine. “I think [the network] had their doubts whether America had a need for anything like that… They were pleasantly surprised that there are a trillion women out there in America just like me: a housewife… I think the network was amazed at the connection I had with people.”
Deen’s first show, Paula’s Home Cooking, premiered in 2002. It became an instant hit and she went on to front two more cooking shows for the cable channel, Paula’s Party, which premiered in 2006, and Paula’s Best Dishes, which hit the airwaves in 2008. The celebrity chef also landed various franchises, endorsements, and sponsorships deals with major corporations like QVC, Target, Walmart, J.C. Penney, and more.
The 2013 Racial Slur Controversy
Unfortunately for Deen, her lucrative partnerships with the Food Network and other big brands came to a screeching halt in 2013. In June of that year, the Southern Cooking Bible author was sued for racial and sexual discrimination by a former restaurant manager. While the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, Deen admitted to using racial slurs in her deposition, which had a major impact on her reputation once the news hit the press.
As a result of her admission, the Food Network promptly fired Deen, putting an end to all TV shows, endorsement deals, and any other business the celebrity chef had with the network. She was also dropped by Caesars Entertainment, operator of her four highly successful casino buffets (which have since been rebranded), as well as sponsors such as QVC, Walmart, Smithfield Foods, and J.C. Penney. Her long-time publisher, Ballantine Books, also gave her the boot. Needless to say, the star’s income took a major hit, with some experts estimating over $3 million in losses.
Paula Deen’s Net Worth Now
So what’s the status of Paula Deen’s fortune today? According to CelebrityNetWorth.com, she’s currently worth an estimated $16 million. That’s a pretty substantial chunk of change considering how much business she lost as a result of the racial slur scandal. In fact, according to The Washington Times, sales of her cookbooks actually skyrocketed in the aftermath of the controversy. Despite being dumped by Ballentine Books, Deen managed to ink a deal with the Hachette Book Group to publish a new cookbook, Paula Deen’s Southern Baking, in 2019.
The disgraced chef was also able to get herself back on the TV thanks to the 2015 launch of the Paula Deen Channel on Roku. That same year, Deen was invited to compete on the 21st season of Dancing With the Stars, and in 2016, she launched a syndicated TV show called Positively Paula. In April of 2021, Deen joined Season 11 of the Fox cooking competition show MasterChef, appearing alongside fellow celebrity cooks like Emeril Lagasse, Roy Choi, and Morimoto.
And let’s not forget her highly successful chain of family-style restaurants, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. It opened its first location in 2015—two years after the racial slur controversy—and cut the ribbon on a new location as recently as 2020.
Clearly, Paula Deen is doing just fine on the financial front.