The restaurant at the center of a lawsuit involving celebrity chef Paula Deen has closed. Uncle Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House in Savannah, Ga., surprised employees by handing out final paychecks Thursday. Deen owned the eatery with her brother Bubba Hiers. A 2012 lawsuit accused the two of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.
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Another chapter today in the saga of Southern food celebrity Paula Deen. Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House has closed its doors. That's the Savannah, Georgia, restaurant she owns along with her brother. It was the center of a controversy last year that cost Deen part of her lucrative food empire after she admitted under oath that she had used a racial slur. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The restaurant's website says thank you for 10 great years. Uncle Bubba's is now closed. Deen's younger brother, Earl Bubba Hiers, issued a statement saying he closed the restaurant to explore other development options for the waterfront property. In Savannah today, an orange barricade blocks the Spanish moss-draped driveway to Bubba's Seafood & Oyster House. A security guard keeps watch as curious fans like Maryanne Spears(ph) drive past.
MARYANNE SPEARS: Well, I'm upset. I mean, we have all her cookbooks. We've eaten at all her places.
ELLIOTT: Her friend, Marilyn Philips(ph), speculates Bubba's closure is more fallout from the racial comment. She says it's not right to keep punishing Deen for saying something offensive.
MARILYN PHILIPS: Who hasn't? Who hasn't? If you never said a racial statement, if you've never cussed anybody, you've never done anybody wrong, then you may throw the first stone.
ELLIOTT: Bubba's was in the spotlight when a former manager filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging a hostile workplace. The case was later dismissed but not before Deen admitted at a deposition to using racial slurs in the past. The Food Network dropped her, and major retailers, including Target and Wal-Mart, quit selling her products. Deen made this tearful apology on NBC's "Today" show.
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PAULA DEEN: I can truthfully say in my life I have never with any intention hurt anybody on purpose, and I never would.
ELLIOTT: In his deposition, Bubba Hiers admitted to frequently viewing pornography at work and taking money from the restaurant. He testified that Bubba's was never a big moneymaker. That's not surprising, says John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.
JOHN T. EDGE: This South, this moment, kind of cornball hokum, the kind of "Hee-Haw" South, no longer sells. That kind of old South doesn't sell. I think there's a smarter tourist today, especially among culinary tourists. They're looking for something different, something far more new South than old South.
ELLIOTT: Deen's flagship Savannah restaurant, The Lady and Sons, remains open, and she's expanding Paula Deen Ventures thanks to a $75 million deal with a private investment firm. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
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