(Now that the home is on the market, I figured I needed to post about this amazing experience from last year before she sells the house!)
Around the same time the Paula Deen Live! event was getting ready to happen, I got an invite to the Paula Deen Network Launch Party in Savannah, GA. I wasn't sure why I got an invite, but I was really thrilled to get it. Sounded like a great time and if I could stay at the in-law's condo on Hilton Head Island, then it would only cost gas money and a few meals for the whole adventure.
I accepted the invite and was really looking forward to a nice weekend.
As the time for the event got closer, I started to get some interesting info:
—No cell phones, a photographer would be on hand to take pictures
—We'd be taken to the event location in groups by buses, so be on time
—I would be in the final group
Interesting…but I hope we can find a parking space in downtown Savannah on a Saturday night!
The condo was already spoken for that weekend, but the hubby found an inexpensive hotel in the area and we drove down Saturday morning. We checked in, changed clothes and started on our adventure.
We checked in at Ort Hall and there were a few others waiting as well. As we waited to get on the shuttle buses, we relaxed with some amazing sweet tea and snacked on the very best ham I've ever had along with apple slices dipped in a delicious Orange Blossom Honey.
Our destination was still unknown, but my best bet was that we were heading to a private dining room at another restaurant owned by her company. As we boarded the bus, we heard someone say, "Have fun at Paula's house!," but weren't really sure if they were joking.
Now buses aren't known for being quick transportation, but after a while, we ended up in an actual neighborhood. So no private room at a restaurant, we were at somebody's house. Lots of whispering with the others on the bus…were we really, really at Paula's house?
Our bus was waiting on two other buses to exit the driveway, so we were stuck there for a few minutes. Then the door opened and Hollis (Paula Deen's chief of security) walked in and said he'd walk us onto the property.
SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! We're really here!
The property is gorgeous and the house is just stunning. (And yes, I walked by the guest house where Oprah and Gayle stayed.) We lined up and went inside. The living room was huge and spacious and elegant and everything you'd want your living room to be. And at the other end of the room was the Lady herself, Paula Deen. Her husband, Michael, was there with her as she smiled and spoke with each guest. There was a professional photographer snapping away—thank goodness she'd be there to capture my humidity-induced frizzie hairdo.
Our wait in line gave us more than enough time to admire the living room. Now that the home is listed for sale, you can go online and see just how beautiful it is…my words couldn't do it justice.
When it was our time to meet Paula, one of her little dogs had jumped up on the sofa in front of her. I said, "Don't you just want to rub that little belly?" She bent down, kissed the dog and rubbed his belly. It was such a nice moment seeing her so relaxed and happy.
And then, she reached out her hand and pulled me towards her.
We had a conversation about the live event in Charlotte and finding out that I have the same birthday as Lee Greenwood. Michael chimed in and said, “He’s a bit older than you!” Then, we turned toward the camera and got this shot:
It may have only been a minute or two, but she made it feel like we talked for much longer.
After we met with Paula and Michael, we made our way over to the doors leading outside. Bobby Deen was standing there talking with some people. He saw me and I got a quick hug. Super-super nice guy! When we made it outside, we saw huge platters of fried chicken and biscuits being served. The patio area had this unbelievable outdoor kitchen and the chicken was being fried in batches. We each got a fried chicken breast and a flute of champagne. And let me tell you, that was some fantastic chicken! I never got a biscuit, but that’s okay—what a wonderful evening—and it wasn’t over yet!
After she finished greeting the rest of our group and enjoyed some time outside with everyone, she called us all back inside.
We all gathered back inside the living room and she spoke to us about dealing with last year's controversy, the fallout and how she found strength in the fans that still believed in her. I can tell you that, to me, every word felt honest and heartfelt. There was a palpable yearning that she wanted us to understand how much the fan support meant to her personally—to her core. You sensed that she made it through the storm to prove, without any doubt, that she wasn't the person being portrayed in the press.
It was a compelling moment from someone who was speaking deeply from their heart. She bared her soul to a room full of strangers and I was moved by her tremendous spirit. Standing before us was a woman who has—now TWICE—worked her way through seemingly insurmountable odds.
I can’t imagine the stress she was under. But you could tell that the tide had turned and she was ready to take charge of her comeback when she realized she had supporters who were there for her all along. And once she was recharged, she took a good long look at where her brand could go and then it was game: ON.
Without having to rely on a traditional cable cooking channel to broadcast her programs or sharing their digital portals and apps with other chef personalities, her brand smartly evolved into the digital realm to become its own content generator and provider. If you want Paula, her Paula Deen Network has all of it there for you: familiar shows, new cooking segments, new recipes—it’s all there and it’s all in her signature style and spirit. It’s that same spirit and spirited personality that jumped through the TV and grabbed fans in the first place. Now, her content delivery is more nimble and can be accessed through all digital devices: laptop, tablet and smartphone. Given another broadcast outlet, she could easily repackage the content into a show. With the Paula Deen Network providing a solid platform full of content, she’s found her footing and is back on the road to rebuilding an empire.
Add to that, the lessons learned from the fallout. And just like anyone who has experienced disappointment or failure, those lessons end up becoming tools that help you move forward. Paula Deen now has the tools, the means and drive to be unstoppable.
Remember the old saying that everyone deserves a second chance? Watch out world—because Paula Deen is making the most out of this one.