A woman who has worked as a cook in Paula Deen’s flagship Savannah restaurant for 22 years — and claims to have provided the southern-cuisine know-how that is the foundation of Deen’s success — is complaining in a new interview that Deen didn’t treat her fairly.
The African-American woman, Dora Charles, 66, was interviewed by the New York Times for this story, in which the woman claims Deen never shared the eventual wealth that Charles said Deen promised.
In addition, Charles levels new charges of racism in the interview. Or so it seems.
Charles’ complaints seem to revolve more around financial inequities than accusations of racism. Basically, she’s saying Deen once promised that she would become wealthy along with Deen as her food empire grew. Charles says that did not happen. “I’m not trying to portray that she is a bad person,” Charles is quoted as saying. “I’m just trying to put my story out there that she didn’t treat me fairly.”
However, the Times’ story contains at least two references to alleged racism on the part of Deen that stem from the Charles interview.
One of them is an anecdote about another employee of Deen’s Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, Ineata Jones, nicknamed “Jellyroll.” According to the story, Jones has the task of going out in front of the restaurant everyday when it opens at 11 a.m. and ringing a bell inviting passersby to “come and get it.”
It’s a task Charles said she refused to do because to her, it smacked of plantation traditions from the era of southern slavery. Jones was not available or declined to comment on the situation for the Times’ story. So her testimony is unavailable to back up Charles’ assertion that Deen once asked Jones to dress in an outfit resembling Aunt Jemima to ring her bell, but Jones declined. In a statement in the Times story, Deen denies she made that request.
In another part of the Times story, a reference is made to Deen allegedly using an unspecified “racially offensive term for a black child” in referring to Charles. The story contains Deen’s denial of this too.
The interview is getting wide play today (Thursday, July 25) and it’s no doubt adding to the impression that Deen has been insensitive (if not all-out racist) in her dealings with her African-American employees. Deen, of course, is the embattled now-former Food Network star who admitted in a legal deposition that she used the n-word in the past.
These new allegations come just when one company — the furniture company that markets a line of Paula Deen furniture — has declared it plans to stick with Deen, even though other companies ranging from Food Network to Smithfield Foods have severed their relationships with her.