Tremors from the highly publicized collapse of the Paula Deen empire have spread into Western North Carolina.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort announced it will re-brand Paula Deen’s Kitchen, the 400-seat restaurant and retail outlet, one of almost a dozen eateries on the property.
“We really felt that the comments that she admitted making were really in conflict with our culture here of inclusion and nondiscrimination,” says Leeann Bridges, vice president of marketing for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. “We felt that it was the best thing in the interest of our brand and our business to move forward and terminate the relationship with Paula Deen Enterprises.”
The restaurant owner and celebrity chef has faced intense scrutiny from the national media since late June, when a deposition leaked in which she admitted to using racial slurs. The lawsuit was filed in May by a former employee against Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers.
Since the deposition surfaced, the Food Network, Smithfield Food, Wal-Mart and Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which owns Harrah’s, have severed their contracts with Paula Deen Enterprises.
Harrah’s Cherokee had been operating Paula Deen’s Kitchen through a licensing agreement, Bridges says. The restaurant will not close, and the menu has already changed. The name and branding will change over the next couple of weeks.
Bridges says the resort mostly used Deen’s name and recipes, although the celebrity herself would visit occasionally. “The restaurant itself was based on a lot of traditional-type of Paula Deen recipes: Southern, low-country, comfort food, very warm, rich, lots of butter,” Bridges says. “She would come up a couple of times a year for a meet-and-greet or whatever promotional-type of activity that we put together.”