How Much Will Paula Deen's Words Cost her Empire?
Dropped by Food Network and Smithfield, Paula Deen's empire is under threat.
June 25, 2013— -- Paula Deen is doing all she can to shore up her image and her estimated $17 million business empire in the wake of a media firestorm ignited by her confession that she has used a racial epithet.
The disgraced celebrity chef Monday tweeted words of thanks to her million-plus followers for "the kind words you have all shared with me and my family, and the support you've shown me this past week."
She also thanked the Rev. Al Sharpton for his "kind words" after the civil rights activist told TMZ that Deen should be judged by "what she's engaged in now" and not by "her past."
The Southern chef, 66, and her brother are being sued for racial and sexual discrimination by Lisa Jackson, who worked as a manager of their Savannah, Ga., restaurant. During a deposition in May, Jackson's lawyer asked Deen whether she'd ever used the N-word. She said she had.
But in a statement to ABC News, Paula Deen Enterprises said the chef was "speaking largely about a time in American history which was quite different than today."
Since the testimony surfaced, Deen has been canned by the Food Network and Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer. Her deal with QVC is also in limbo.
The embattled chef has posted two online videos apologizing for her past use of racial slurs and begging for forgiveness. She will make her first live appearance since the scandal broke Wednesday on the "Today" show, after failing to make a scheduled appearance last week.
Deen has much to lose.
Forbes last year ranked Deen the fourth highest-earning celebrity chef. The so-called butter queen made $4.5 million in 2008 and has been on an upward climb every year since, banking $17 million in 2012, according to the magazine.
That is until the recent media firestorm hit and the Food Network said it would not renew her contract.
"To see somebody who has been so closely aligned to her -- they both grew famous and wealthy together -- drop her, has created a domino effect," Forbes wealth reporter Caleb Melby told ABCNews.com. "It's made a lot of companies that thought they could wait for this to blow over second-guess themselves."
Melby estimated that $2.5 million of Deen's earnings come from the Food Network, which was paying her about $50,000 per episode. The Smithfield deal, in which Deen served as a spokeswoman for the brand, including her own line of hams, since 2006, will likely cost her another $1 million to $2 million.
Smithfield was considered the flagship in Deen's collection of at least 17 licensing and endorsement partnerships, which, Melby said, make up about 30 percent of her earnings.
"But, of course, the question is how does not being on Food Network affect her capacity to do live shows, sell her books and her magazines," Melby said. "She can't hawk her goods on Food Network anymore. Now QVC says it's currently on the rocks and you can bet Walmart is having some internal discussions, as well."
The rest of Deen's empire includes the bimonthly magazine "Cooking with Paula Deen," 14 cookbooks, a home furnishing line, independent TV appearances, her Savannah, Ga., restaurants -- the Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba's Oyster House -- and licensing deals with Walmart, Serta mattresses and Kaleen Rugs.
A deal Deen made to become a spokeswoman for pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk after the announcement that she has Type 2 diabetes is worth another $6 million, according to Forbes.
Melby said that even if Deen lost all her endorsement deals, assuming her restaurants survive the scandal, she could still rake in about $7 million year, ranking her just below chef Bobby Flay.
Her restaurants, where patrons have lined up since last week in a show of support for the embattled chef, make up about 30 percent of her earnings, Melby said.
As for what Deen needs to do to minimize the damage, she can build on what her sons started today in an appearance on CNN: Remind America why they first fell in love with Deen.
In her upcoming "Today" show appearance, Melby said, Deen needs to be "candid and show some remorse but also show that bubbly, motherly side of her that has drawn people to her."