Paula Deen is making a bigger bet on the restaurant business, and she's hoping that Dolly Parton will help her out a little.
The celebrity chef, hot on the comeback trail after getting a $75 million investment from a new backer, is pouring $20 million into a new restaurant near Parton's Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
That kind of money goes a long way in Pigeon Forge, and Deen is going big. The restaurant, called Paula Deen's Kitchen, is estimated to be 20,000 square feet, reports The Associated Press. The area gets about 10 million tourists a year, drawn to the theme park and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Deen's restaurant will be next to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Hotel.
Deen laid low for months after controversy arose over her past use of a racial epithet. Her $100 million empire crumbled as numerous business partners severed relationships with her. The Food Network chose not to renew her contract, a particularly harsh blow.
"When I woke up each morning, it was like my world was crashing down again," Deen, 67, told People Magazine this week.
Deen did not return a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch.
Despite the drama, Deen's fan base remained strong, which is one reason why private-equity firm Najafi Cos. decided to invest. The firm has committed between $75 million to $100 million, and Deen formed a new company called Paula Deen Ventures.
The Tennessee restaurant is the first announced project from Deen's new company. The eatery will take many of its cues from Lady & Sons, Deen's restaurant in Savannah, Ga., Bloomberg reports.
Deen isn't saying what else her new company is cooking up. She told People that she will always be haunted by her controversial past and compared her saga to that of Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay prospect.
"I feel like 'embattled' or 'disgraced' will always follow my name," she told the magazine. "It's like that black football player who recently came out." "He said, 'I just want to be known as a football player. I don't want to be known as a gay football player.' I know exactly what he's saying."