As a young girl growing up in Albany, Georgia, Paula Deen never dreamed she would become an American icon. As a young mother, Paula was living the American dream—married to her high school sweetheart, raising two adorable boys; when tragedy struck. Her parents died, her marriage failed and she began a prolonged battle with agoraphobia. With her boys in their teens and her family near homelessness, Paula took her last $200, reached deep inside her soul and started “The Bag Lady,” a home-based catering company that marked the start of Deen’s professional cooking. With sons Jamie and Bobby delivering “lunch-and-love-in-a-bag,” beginning in June 1989, Paula turned around her life by sharing what she knew best, traditional Southern cooking.
Overcoming poverty, self doubt and health challenges to achieve success and acclaim she could never have imagined, Paula has become one of the best-known personalities in the world of cooking. Yet the most remarkable part of Paula Deen’s journey from her kitchen to fame and fortune is that Paula has remained every bit as genuine, real and full of love as she was the day that the first meals left her kitchen.
Deen’s first business, The Bag Lady, brought out Paula’s strengths and stabilized her family. She moved her catering company to a small restaurant at a Best Western motel in Savannah and finally opening her first restaurant, The Lady and Sons, with Bobby and Jamie five years later. The restaurant was a hit and the popularity of Paula and her cooking led to her first cookbook, 1998’s The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook. This gave her fans the opportunity to try Paula’s recipes at home, and led to her first television appearance on QVC. Paula’s genuine warmth and folksy personality made her a natural for television. In 1999, USA Today food critic Jerry Shriver named The Lady and Sons “International Meal of the Year.”
Paula’s rise to stardom was underway but when she premiered “Paula’s Home Cooking” on the Food Network in 2002, she was on the verge of superstardom. The network added “Paula’s Party” in 2006 and Bobby and Jamie began making appearances with Paula on the programs. The family that began delivering lunch-and-love-in-a-bag in 1989 had become one of the most recognized and beloved families in the country. The Food Network gave Bobby and Jamie their own show, “Road Tasted,” and today Paula has two shows running on the network, “Paula’s Best Dishes,” which debuted in 2008 and the long running “Paula’s Home Cooking.” Bobby’s show “Not My Mama’s Meals” is a hit on the Cooking Channel/Food Network and Jamie’s show “Home for Dinner with Jamie Deen” is achieving similar success. As well, Paula is a two-time Emmy Award winner.
In addition to her success on television, Deen is the author of 14 cookbooks that have sold more than 8,000,000 copies and her bimonthly magazine Cooking With Paula Deen has total readership of over 3,000,000 people today. When Paula tours the country making personal appearances to talk about life, family and cooking, thousands of people come to participate. On New Year’s Day 2011, Paula was the Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Paula’s business interests have grown considerably. In 2011, Paula launched Paula Deen Foods, which includes sauces, spices, baking kits and more. In 2014, Paula launched the Paula Deen Network, an interactive online cooking network that combines cooking, lifestyle and game shows with great recipes, meal-planning tools and more.
Ever grateful for all she has been blessed with, Paula and her family continue to give back to the community. Paula is a member of the board of the Bethesda Home for Boys, works tirelessly for America’s Second Harvest and in 2012, launched The Bag Lady Foundation, supporting issues of hunger which effect women and families across the country.