Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s restaurant, which was in the spotlight last year following a racial discrimination lawsuit, abruptly shut its doors Thursday without warning its employees, who collected their severance pay in the parking lot.
The Savannah Morning News reported that staff of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House in Savannah, Ga., showed up to work Thursday to find that the establishment was empty with the kitchen’s appliances cleared. The workers reportedly collected their severance checks in the restaurant’s parking lot.
Employees and the public were informed via Facebook that the restaurant, which was co-owned by 67-year-old Deen and her brother Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers Jr., 60, had closed its doors for good on Thursday.
“Thank you for 10 great years,” the Facebook post and website read. “Uncle Bubba’s is now closed.” The Facebook page no longer exists as of Friday morning.
Local news source WTOC sought out a former employee who said the restaurant was operating as usual the night before.
"I worked like literally last night, so I closed the restaurant," Brian Ginn said. "Nothing was out of the ordinary at all. It was, it was busy."
A Deen spokesperson said the restaurant, which opened in 2004, was closed by Hiers so he could “explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located.”
According to the statement, the staff received “severance based on position and tenure with the restaurant” and “all effort will be made to find employees comparable employment with other Savannah restaurant organizations." However, TMZ reported employees were just given a Paula Deen business card along with a list of restaurants hiring in the area.
Uncle Bubba’s was the center of a publicity nightmare last year after a former employee, Lisa Jackson, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the celebrity chef. Deen admitted in a deposition that she had used the N-word "of course" and also planned a wedding reception reminiscent of plantation days with black men dressed in dinner jackets.
The lawsuit was later dismissed by a federal judge. But Deen was fired from her job at the Food Network and lost a pending cookbook deal along with many endorsement deals.