Private-equity firm Najafi Cos. specializes in businesses "out of popular favor"—and celebrity chef Paula Deen's certainly qualifies.
The Phoenix-based firm has invested as much as $100 million in Deen's new company, Paula Deen Ventures. The infusion will allow Deen to focus more on new deals in which she has greater ownership and control, rather than the licensing model she's utilized to date.
That system worked brilliantly for Deen until last year, when she was fired by the Food Network and lost dozens of endorsement deals after she admitted to using a racial slur. But Jahm Najafi told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn't see the investment as much of a risk, given Deen's strong base of fans.
"The important thing to remember is that her fan base is rabid," Najafi said. "Her Facebook fan base has more than doubled in the past year. The Paula Deen brand is alive and well."
"Our investment allows the Paula Deen brand to expand their relationships and the partnerships that are already in place, and support those partnerships on a go-forward basis," he added.
Steven Nanula, whose Nanco Group has worked with Deen before, will serve as CEO of the new company. He told the Journal that Deen Ventures has been in talks with television networks, retail chains and other potential partners.