Embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen has split from her agent of more than a decade, Barry Weiner. The TV chef, who came under fire for racist comments she admitted to making in a recent deposition and who was subsequently fired from many of her partnerships, announced the news on Thursday.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Weiner was an instrumental figure in expanding Deen’s empire and was responsible for many of her company’s crucial day-to-day decisions. Deen’s spokeswoman Elana Weiss announced that the two had gone separate ways, saying, “She and her family thank him for the tireless effort and dedication over the many years."
The publication noted that Weiner also represents Deen’s sons Jamie and Bobby, as well as her producer Gordon Elliott. Weiss did not mention whether Weiner would continue to retain those links to Deen as clients. Deen has been fired from partnerships with Walmart, Target, Home Depot, JC Penney, The Food Network and Smithfield Pork.
Chris Shigas, vice president at the PR agency French West Vaughan, which helped revive Michael Vick’s image after an 18-month prison sentence for dog fighting and conspiracy charges, said that the split could prove to be a positive thing for Deen. Shigas said that Vick’s comeback hinged on taking ownership of his past mistakes by making an effort to do more than he was legally obligated to do.
"The American public is very forgiving. If she could really learn empathy, I think she could salvage her career,” Shigas said. “If she does, in earnest, work to make amends with the American public and have an open dialogue with groups who are working to educate people every day, I think that would be a good thing for America, and she would create a new brand.”
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"It would be Paula Deen 2.0,” he added. “I don't what that would look like or what it would become, but it would be a new generation of her brand."
The backlash against Deen was sparked when she admitted, in testimony for a lawsuit filed by her former employee Lisa Jackson, to using the N-word on at least one occasion, though not in front of employees, and to asking the wait staff at a restaurant she co-owned to dress as slaves for a plantation-themed wedding she was planning to throw for her brother Bubba.
Jackson has since issued a statement saying that the lawsuit was not about Deen’s racist comments, but about Deen’s “disrespect and degradation of people that she deems to be inferior.”
The “lawsuit has never been about the N-word,” Jackson said in a statement, published by WEWS News Channel5.