Paula Deen (b. 1947)
Paula Deen is a Savannah-based restaurateur, author, and television personality. Her restaurant The Lady and Sons is a popular tourist destination in Savannah and features her trademark southern home cooking.
Paula Ann Hiers was born in Albany on January 19, 1947, to Corrie and Earl Hiers. She spent her early childhood at River Bend, a small resort in Dougherty County owned by her grandparents. Her father worked at a car dealership, and her mother and grandmother ran the restaurant at River Bend. Although the young Paula often wanted to help in the kitchen, her mother found the child's presence disruptive due to Paula's need to "be in control of [the] pots." Involved in cheerleading and beauty pageants as a teenager, she graduated from Albany High School in 1965. At age eighteen she married Jimmy Deen, whom she met in high school. Deen's first son, Jamie, was born in 1967, and three years later, she had another son, Bobby.
Soon after the birth of her second son, Deen began to suffer from depression and agoraphobia, and she often used cooking as a way to cope with her illness. In 1989 she and her husband divorced, and she moved with her sons to Savannah. With only $200 in the bank, she opened a catering business called The Bag Lady. Deen packed homemade sandwiches and desserts in brown paper bags, and Jamie and Bobby sold the meals to customers in downtown Savannah. After developing a following, she decided to venture into the restaurant business.
In 1990 Deen opened her first restaurant, The Lady, in a Best Western hotel in Savannah. In 1996, after the lease for The Lady's space expired, she opened The Lady and Sons, a larger restaurant, in Savannah. The restaurant, serving such southern favorites as hoecakes, fried chicken, and fried green tomatoes, proved to be a great success. The following year she published her first cookbook, The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook. Deen sold the cookbook on QVC, a home-shopping television network, and as a result became well known outside the Southeast. Her restaurant also benefited from the influx of tourists who came to Savannah in 1997 for the filming and premiere of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the adaptation of John Berendt's best-selling book.
In 1999 Deen met Gordon Elliott, a television personality and producer, and he asked her to be a guest on his cooking show. She began appearing on several Food Network shows as a guest star, and in 2001 she shot a pilot episode of a cooking show. In November 2002 her first show, Paula's Home Cooking, premiered on the Food Network. She has since starred in two additional Food Network series, Paula's Party and Paula's Best Dishes. Deen's method of food preparation, promoted on her shows and in her cookbooks, involves using recipes that are inspired by traditional southern foods and can be made at home with readily available ingredients.
Deen married Michael Groover, a harbor-ship pilot from Savannah, in 2004. That same year she opened Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, a seafood restaurant in Savannah, with her younger brother, Bubba Hiers. In 2005 she began publishing the magazine Cooking with Paula Deen, and in March 2008 she launched a line of housewares and cooking appliances. In 2007 her memoir, Paula Deen: It Ain't All about the Cookin', reached number two on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction, and she received two Emmy Awards for Paula's Home Cooking. By 2010 she had published more than ten cookbooks.