More controversy for Deen with restaurant’s closing

How long has it been since Paula Deen was in the news amid a swirl of controversy? Five minutes? Well, she’s back.

This week’s sudden closing of Deen’s brother’s Savannah restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood & Oyster House, has stoked a new firestorm.

“Thank you for 10 great years. Uncle Bubba’s is now closed,” a statement on the restaurant’s Facebook page announced on Thursday.

A statement later released from the restaurant said owner-operator Bubba Hiers “made the decision to close the restaurant in order to explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located. At this point, no specific plans have been announced and a range of uses are under consideration in order to realize the highest and best use for the property.”

Although the statement went on to say employees would receive severance and possible employment elsewhere, angry commenters flocked to the shuttered restaurant’s Facebook page with a vengeance.

“My mother worked there for over eight years and no one called her!” Savannah resident Jaime Linn Puckett posted. “My fiance also worked there. No one called him. I am now left to pick up double shifts at work to make ends meet and I’m six months pregnant. I hope Paula enjoys that $75 million she just signed on while all employees of (Uncle Bubba’s) are left frantically searching for a job.”

Deen recently announced “Najafi Companies was investing $75 million to $100 million to help her bounce back, and that as part of the deal, she was launching an umbrella company, Paula Deen Ventures, to oversee her restaurants, cookbooks and product endorsements,” The Associated Press reported.

A lawsuit filed by a former Uncle Bubba’s employee led to controversy that engulfed Deen, who owned the restaurant with her brother, when she acknowledged in a deposition that she had used a racial slur in decades past. The suit ultimately was dismissed, but Deen lost a slew of endorsements and was canned by the Food Network.

Still, she retains a strong fan base. She received a warm welcome at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in February, with fans shouting, “We want you back, Paula!” She thanked the roaring crowd for the support and hollered, “I’m back in the saddle!”

There were few Paula fans commenting on the erstwhile restaurant’s page on Friday. Some commenters complained that they’d recently purchased gift cards or Groupon offers to the now defunct business, and many sounded irked at how employees learned their jobs were gone.

“Employees who were loyal to you til the very end didn’t deserve to hear that they had become unemployed via social media,” posted Brandon J. Williams.

“Terrible that you closed and did not tell your employees before posting it on Facebook,” said Andrea Graff Madison.

Brighter news came via social media from just up the road in Tybee Island, though. “We are still hiring,” the Crab Shack restaurant said in an update posted shortly after Uncle Bubba’s news. “Pick up an application any day between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Please share this with folks you know.”

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