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Countdown to Savannah: Hey Ya'll, Savannah's Paula Deen

Kathy Wood (kaydee)

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

Paula Deen History

She’s been described as “the butter-loving, finger-licking, joke-cracking queen of melt-in-your-mouth Southern cuisine.” Some people absolutely love her—and her style of cooking. Others don’t—and are vocal about that, too. Emotions often run high when people start talking about Paula Deen, the 60-year-old Food Network star who got her start in Savannah some 20 years ago.

Originally from Albany, Georgia, Paula married young and had two children. Both of her parents died before she was 24, and a few years later she and her husband lost their business and their home. Her life was in a downward spiral. Some time before the family moved 200 miles to Savannah in 1987, Paula developed a serious case of agoraphobia. The move only accentuated her problems. She stayed in bed for two months, getting up only to eat.

One good thing did come out of these years of fear. “I had turned into a really good cook,” Paula says on her website. “Remember, I had kept myself a prisoner in my own home for years. All I did was cook.” In 1989, with the help of her sons, she started a small business in Savannah—The Bag Lady—preparing and delivering home-cooked meals to local office workers. Her business eventually expanded into a full-service restaurant in Savannah’s Best Western hotel, which she named The Lady.

“I dreamed of a place where my style of cooking went hand-in-hand with the surroundings,” Paula says. “We had so many friends and loyal customers on the south side of Savannah, but I knew that we belonged Downtown. My style of cooking was Southern Plantation cuisine reminiscent of the Old South, and the Historic District of Downtown Savannah was the place for me.”

In 1996 Paula opened her own restaurant—The Lady and Sons—in a former Sears and Roebuck store on East Congress Street, serving her home-cooked southern comfort food. From that point on, success came quickly. Her self-published cookbook was purchased by Random House, she appeared on the QVC Network, and in 1999, USA Today recognized her for the “Most Memorable Meal” of the year. Her biggest break came when she was a guest on a Food Network show. Today, she hosts one of the network’s most popular shows, Paula Deen's Home Cooking, as well as a new show, Paula's Party. She has her own magazine, has written several cookbooks, has appeared on numerous talk shows and specials, and even had a co-starring role in the movie Elizabethtown. Her 2004 wedding to local tugboat pilot, Michael Groover, was filmed for a Food Network special. Coming up is her autobiography "It Ain't All About the Cooking" which will be published in April 2007.

Today, The Lady and Sons is one of Savannah’s biggest attractions. In 2003 The Lady and Sons moved to a much larger 200-year old building further west on Congress Street on a prominent corner of the Historic District. They definitely need the additional space! Tourists come from all over America to eat lunch and dinner at Paula’s restaurant, often waiting in line for up to two-and-a-half hours before the doors open. Paula’s sons Jamie and Bobby—who manage The Lady and Sons—have their own Food Network show, Road Tasted. Her younger brother Bubba has a restaurant seven miles from downtown Savannah (Uncle Bubba's Oyster House) where Paula sometimes teaches cooking schools and where Paula’s Party is filmed. For those who are really Paula-maniacs, there’s even a Paula Deen tour of Savannah, including lunch at Uncle Bubba’s.

Several Slow Travelers have already raised their hands to say they’re Paula fans and want to have lunch at The Lady and Sons during the Gathering weekend. (Fortunately, you can make a reservation for a group of 10 or more and avoid that long wait outside.)

I have to confess—even though I live in the south, cook with too much butter and love The Food Network, I haven’t been a big Paula Deen fan. But after learning more about her story, I’m definitely impressed by what this gutsy lady has achieved, especially since her success has come in midlife and after a series of personal setbacks.

Learn more about Paula Deen and The Lady and Sons restaurant:

Paula's story (from her website)

The Lady and Sons

Paula's impact on Savannah tourism

Some of Paula's recipes (from The Food Network website)

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)

Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood


Kathy is a former Human Resources executive who now works as a consultant and part-time college professor. She and Charley also lead The Luberon Experience (www.luberonexperience.com), a week-long, small-group trip based in Provence.

© Kathy Wood, 2007


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