Paula Deen (Getty Images)
by Jason Sandford, Gannett News
Celebrity chef Paula Deen's cooking empire took another hit Wednesday when Caesars Entertainment Corp. announced it was dropping Deen-themed restaurants it operates at four casinos, including Harrah's Cherokee Casino.
The decision was a mutual agreement between the two companies to close the casino-based Paul Deen's Kitchen restaurants, according to a Caesars Entertainment spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said Deen had offered sincere apologies but decided "it is in the best interest of both parties to part ways."
Leeann Bridges, a spokeswoman for Harrah's Cherokee, about an hour west of Asheville, said the 400-seat restaurant will remain open but offer a new menu immediately.
"We are working to rebrand with a new name in the upcoming weeks and anticipate it having a coffee shop style of offerings for our guests," Bridges said.
Deen, 66, has faced a firestorm of controversy since the revelation last week that the Southern cook admitted in a lawsuit deposition that she had used racial slurs and told off-color jokes in the past.
Smithfield Foods, whose hams Deen has endorsed since 2006, fired Deen on Monday. The Food Network terminated its contract with Deen last week and immediately yanked her two shows from its programming schedule. Walmart said it would stop selling Paula Deen-branded products. QVC is also reviewing its dealings with Deen.
Harrah's Cherokee Casino heralded the opening of Deen's restaurant there last April. The eatery, decorated to replicate the feel of Deen's home and kitchen in Savannah Ga., offered Deen's Southern specialties such as cheesy meatloaf, country fried steak and barbecued brisket. An 1,800-square-foot Paula Deen retail shop offered her cookbooks, spices and cookware for sale at the restaurant's entrance.
The deposition in which Deen admitted using racial slurs came as part of a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee, Lisa Jackson, who worked for Paula Deen Enterprises and was part of Deen's inner circle.
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