Harrah’s, Wal-Mart drop Paula Deen, Rev. Jesse Jackson offers support
BY BOB OKON Sun-Times Media June 26, 2013 6:48PM
Paula Deen, in an appearance on the "Today" show Wednesday, said she isn't a racist despite saying in a legal deposition that she has used racial slurs in the past.
Updated: July 30, 2013 8:01AM
Paula Deen’s brand value was falling fast when Harrah’s Casino Joliet separated from the former Food Network star on Wednesday.
Hours after Caesars Entertainment, which owns Harrah’s Casino Joliet, announced that it would rebrand Paula Deen’s Kitchen restaurants, Wal-Mart ended its relationship with the celebrity chef.
Food Network dropped Deen on Friday after news reports that she had admitted using a racial slur in the past.
While corporate America was shunning Deen, the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to her defense, saying there was no need to make her a “sacrificial lamb.”
“I sense she is deeply troubled by what happened . . . Her legacy and reputation are at stake and [she wants] a way out,” Jackson said. “We are providing a way out.”
The Joliet restaurant is one of four Paula Deen’s Kitchens that Caesars Entertainment will replace. In a statement, the company said it had “reached a mutual agreement with Paula Deen Enterprises not to renew the two companies’ business relationship.”
A little more than a year ago, Deen was welcomed to Joliet with pride that the culinary star would put her name on a restaurant in the downtown business district. By Wednesday, the glamor was gone.
“They definitely made the right decision,” said Pam Owens, executive director of the Joliet City Center Partnership, which promotes business development downtown. “Why would you want to continue a relationship with the Paula Deen name if that’s the connotation attached to it?”
Deen became famous for her Southern cooking, her Food Network show and her cookbooks.
Her image survived a hit when it was learned just before the Joliet restaurant opened that Deen had diabetes.
She vowed while in Joliet that she would continue to eat Southern foods but cut back on the portions.
On Wednesday, she appeared on the “Today” show and tried to rebuild a reputation that was suffering from reports that she had used the “n-word” — something that came out in a deposition for a lawsuit brought by a former employee.
Deen said she could only recall using the word once, although that appeared to contradict earlier statements.
Deen called to those in the “Today” show audience who had never said anything they regretted to “please pick up that stone and throw it at my head so hard it kills me. I want to meet you. I want to meet you.
“It is what it is, and I’m not changing,” she said. “There’s someone evil out there that saw what I worked for and wanted it.”
Jackson’s comments seemed to reflect some sympathy for what Deen was losing.
“She may be a symbol of intolerance, but she should not be a sacrificial lamb,” he said.
Likewise, a black pastor in Joliet, Herbert Brooks Jr., who also is speaker of the Will County Board, seemed to make a distinction between the sin and the sinner, or at least her restaurant, when he commented on the Deen controversy.
“I don’t like the comments she made, but I would like to see the business succeed,” Brooks said, noting that Joliet and Will County needed the jobs and the business that came with the Paula Deen name.
Brooks attended the ribbon cutting for Deen’s Joliet restaurant and said at the time, “I was impressed with her.”
Earlier this week, pork producer Smithfield Foods said Deen would no longer be a company spokeswoman. Wal-Mart, which started carrying Paula Deen-branded products in 2011, said it will not place “any new orders beyond what’s already committed.”