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Phoenix Suns co-owner invests in Paula Deen

By Christopher Seward
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A new business venture by Savannah, Ga., author and TV celebrity chef Paul Deen is getting a multimillion-dollar investment from a private equity company that is part owner of the Phoenix Suns NBA team.

The investment, reportedly $75 million to $100 million, from an affiliate of Najafi Cos. is designed “to build and grow” Paula Deen Ventures, according to the Phoenix-based investment firm.

Deen’s celebrity status took a hit last year after she acknowledged in a deposition that she had used racial slurs in the past. The admission, revealed during a lawsuit filed by a former employee, led to Deen’s Food Network show being canceled and the loss of dozens of product endorsements, including Smithfield Foods.

Deen, whose supporters were just as vocal as her critics, has apologized repeatedly, calling the language “totally, totally unacceptable.”

Content distributor Najafi Media will invest in Paula Dean Ventures, which comprises Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Media, Paula Deen Restaurants, Paula Deen Cookware and Paula Deen Home. PDV will be headed by Steven Nanula, who has led development of Paula Deen Food Co. for the past two years. It was not immediately clear what Najafi would gain in exchange for its investment, such as an equity stake in PDV.

In a statement, Deen said she expects her businesses to grow to new heights with the investment and new leadership. “I know this is the right decision to lead my team, as we continue to share quality products with my fans – whose love and support have built my brands,” Deen said.

Efforts were being made to reach Nanula for comment. In announcing the venture Wednesday, Nanula said PDV will develop “progressive business initiatives.” He told The Wall Street Journal the company is in talks with TV networks, retail chains and other possible partners but hasn’t signed a major deal.

Nanula also said the company will strengthen existing partnerships with cookware distributor Meyer Corp., furniture manufacturer Universal Furniture and poultry producer Springer Mountain Chickens.

Najafi’s strategy is sometimes to invest in enterprises that have fallen out of favor. Jahm Najafi, founder and chief executive officer, said Deen’s “hard work, unique content and quality products” will make the venture successful.

In addition to an ownership stake in the Phoenix Suns, Najafi owns the BMG Music Service, Columbia House DVD, BOMC2.com, Doubleday Book Club, and Book of the Month Club through its Direct Brands business.

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