Will Paula Deen Serve Up a Comeback in 2014?

Shamed celeb cook quietly resurfaces

A new year invariably fills brands with visions of possibilities. Count Paula Deen among them.

The onetime queen of Southern cooking—who suffered a messy fall from her throne this past summer following allegations that she used racial epithets—appears to be cooking up a comeback.

On Feb. 8, the disgraced down-home diva is slated for a daylong appearance at Samuel’s Grande Manor in Williamsville, N.Y., outside Buffalo—where, according to ABC News, Deen is planning to open her new headquarters. (Deen’s publicity people did not respond to a request for comment.) Samuel’s Grande Manor is a wedding mill that can hold up to 1,600 people, and Deen’s website promises a live cooking show and “a delicious Southern feast” for ticket holders. Admission is $60 a person, while a VIP lunch with Deen goes for $250. At press time, plenty of seats were still available.

Deen no doubt will be sporting the best tan in Buffalo, just coming off a Caribbean “Party at Sea” in mid-January. The Celebrity Cruises event will feature Deen en famille, cooking aboard the ship Reflection.

It’s a given that any fallen celebrity must do penance for a requisite amount of time before tiptoeing back into the public spotlight. Still, Deen’s situation raises tough questions. Among them: Is it still too soon for her to make a comeback? And is a comeback even possible?

Perhaps, according to Henry Schafer, evp of Q Scores, which tracks public opinion of celebrities—but it won’t be easy. “The comeback trail varies by celebrity, and it depends on a number of things. The most important is how quickly the celebrity reacts [to the crisis],” Schafer said.

Deen famously issued three video apologies online—one that ended up being retracted, another that resembled a hostage ransom tape, each of them clumsy and confusing. “It exponentially increased the mess,” Schafer said—and he’s got the numbers to prove it. Prior to the debacle, “black consumers—which, by the way, were a strong consumer group for her—had given her a 25 percent positive Q score, way above average. But in September, it dropped down to a 7. Given those erratic reactions that she presented publicly, there have to be some strong mea culpas, and it may be too late for that.”

Schafer added that Deen’s road to redemption could be harder than most. Unlike athletes or movie stars who are able to mend their reps with the aid of winning games or box-office receipts, Deen’s entire empire rested on her sweet lil’ accent and blinding on-camera smile. “The only glimmer of hope I see is if she can reestablish herself in the media with a more positive showing,” Schafer said. “She’s going to have to do more appearances—and I don’t mean Buffalo.”

To her credit, Deen seems well aware of that. Despite being dumped by Food Network and sponsors like Smithfield Foods and Caesars Entertainment, Deen will reportedly appear at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February, putting her on the same stage as her old Food Network colleagues. (Curiously, the festival’s website mentions Bobby Deen but not his mother.)

Deen—or at least one of her social media minions—has also been busy on Twitter, posting recipes and “hoping y’all” enjoyed the holidays. But much of the chatter about her remains cynical. Take this tweet, for one: “We’re two days into 2014 and Paula Deen is still writing 1853 on her checks.”

Perhaps Donald Trump, who knows a thing or two about surviving scandal, will prove prophetic.

In July, he tweeted that Deen “must be given some credit for admitting her mistake,” predicting, “She will be back!”