February 26, 2014 at 9:33 am

Paula Deen to open first post-scandal restaurant near Dollywood

Paula Deen, the celebrity chef embroiled in scandal after making racial remarks, is planning a new $20 million restaurant next to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in Tennessee.

The new business, called Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, is the first endeavor of Paula Deen Ventures, a firm created earlier this month as part of the chef’s comeback effort. The location near Dollywood in Pigeon Forge serves as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Deen’s previous business, Paula Deen Enterprises, became mired in controversy last year over her past use of a racial epithet. The new company aims to capitalize on the chef’s still-loyal fan base by putting her name on products, food lines and other properties. Deen has sold more than 8 million copies of her cookbooks and has 1.2 million followers on Twitter.

“Together, we can develop Paula Deen retail and restaurants that capture the imagination of Paula’s massive fan base and Pigeon Forge’s huge tourist community,” Bob McManus, one of the project’s developers, said Wednesday in a statement.

The 20,000-square-foot restaurant is scheduled to open in late summer, according to the statement. The eatery will be located next to other celebrity-backed businesses, such as Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Hotel. More than 10 million visitors a year visit the area.

Paula Deen Ventures is backed by Najafi Cos., a private-equity firm in Phoenix. The company will be pouring about $75 million to $100 million into the venture, the Wall Street Journal reported this month. The new restaurant will aim to capture the spirit of the Lady & Sons, the chef’s flagship eatery in Savannah, Ga., according to Paula Deen Venture Chief Executive Officer Steven Nanula.