Dora Charles, 59, a close friend and employee of disgraced chef Paula Deen, 66, has come forward to expose what she claims are a string of broken promises by the Southern chef and a culture of racism and cultural insensitivity within her flagship establishment, ‘Lady & Sons,” reports the New York Times.
Charles claims that she has been there for Deen since she was just struggling to survive. Deen also mentions Charles — a chef in her own right — in her memoir, “It Ain’t All About the Cooking,” writing, “If I lost Dora, I would have been devastated.”
But it’s Charles who was left devastated. Living in a trailer, and with failing health, she claims that Deen never paid up on those promises of riches, even when she made it big. And she now wants the world to know that the racism allegations against her former friend are true.
As previously reported by NewsOne, Deen was fired by ‘The Food Network’ after admitting to using the racial slur “ni**er” and plantation fantasies about having Black men dress in white shorts and bow-ties to serve food at a wedding reception.
Lisa Jackson, a former general manager of Bubba’s Oyster and Seafood House in Savannah, Georgia, alleged in a lawsuit that she experienced emotional distress after being racially and sexually harassed in the workplace.
The restaurant is co-owned by Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers.
Though Deen denied the charges, she admitted to using the racial slur after allegedly being robbed by a Black man.
During the ensuing fallout, Deen has also been dropped by Wal-Mart, Target, Diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk, Caesars Entertainment and Smithfield Foods, and more.
Deen has not been without some unlikely supporters and unexpected sympathizers and rationalizers. They include Rev. Al Sharpton, who said she shouldn’t be judged on using a racial slur in her past, Dr. Boyce Watkins, who in an appearance on CNN’s AC360 argued that Deen’s age and environment should be taken into account when judging her; Roland Martin, who argued that Black people should be just as upset when other Black people use the n-word as racist White people; and Bill Maher, who defended Deen‘s use of the word “ni**er” by declaring it freedom of speech on par with Hip-Hop music.
But Charles is not defending her old friend, stating: ““I’m not trying to portray that she is a bad person,” she said. “I’m just trying to put my story out there that she didn’t treat me fairly and I was her soul sister.”
For 22 years, Mrs. Charles was the queen of the Deen kitchens. She helped open the Lady & Sons, the restaurant here that made Ms. Deen’s career. She developed recipes, trained other cooks and made sure everything down to the collard greens tasted right.
“If it’s a Southern dish,” Ms. Deen once said, “you better not put it out unless it passes this woman’s tongue.”
The money was not great. Mrs. Charles spent years making less than $10 an hour, even after Ms. Deen became a Food Network star. And there were tough moments. She said Ms. Deen used racial slurs. Once she wanted Mrs. Charles to ring a dinner bell in front of the restaurant, hollering for people to come and get it.
“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’ ” Mrs. Charles said. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”
For a black woman in Savannah with a ninth-grade education, though, it was good steady work. And Ms. Deen, she said, held out the promise that together, they might get rich one day.
Now, Ms. Deen, 66, is fighting empire-crushing accusations of racism, and Mrs. Charles, 59 and nursing a bad shoulder, lives in an aging trailer home on the outskirts of Savannah.
“It’s just time that everybody knows that Paula Deen don’t treat me the way they think she treat me,” she said.
The relationship between Mrs. Charles and Ms. Deen is a complex one, laced with history and deep affection, whose roots can be traced back to the antebellum South. Depending on whether Mrs. Charles or Ms. Deen tells the story, it illustrates lives of racial inequity or benevolence.
Jessica B. Harris, a culinary scholar whose books have explored the role of Africans in the Southern kitchen, said Ms. Deen and Mrs. Charles are characters in a story that has been played out since slaves started cooking for whites. “Peering through the window of someone else’s success when you have been instrumental in creating that success is not a good feeling,” Ms. Harris said. “Think about who made money from the blues.”
Ms. Deen ran a restaurant in a Best Western hotel when Mrs. Charles, newly divorced and tired of fast-food kitchens, walked in and auditioned by cooking her version of Southern food. Ms. Deen hired her immediately.
Their birthdays are a day apart, so they celebrated together. When Ms. Deen catered parties to survive until they could open the Lady & Sons, Mrs. Charles hustled right beside her.
“If I lost Dora, I would have been devastated,” Ms. Deen wrote in her 2007 memoir, “It Ain’t All About the Cooking.”
Early on, Mrs. Charles claims, Ms. Deen made her a deal: “Stick with me, Dora, and I promise you one day if I get rich you’ll get rich.”
Now, Mrs. Charles said, she wished she had gotten that in writing. “I didn’t think I had to ’cause we were real close back then,” she said.