Paula Deen's Lady & Sons Cook Dora Charles Opens Up About Ex-Food Star

Thursday, 25 Jul 2013 03:00 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Paula Deen, the disgraced celebrity chef whose use of the N-word crumbled her culinary empire last month, faces new allegations of racism after her former chef spoke out this week about Deen's past discriminatory behavior.

Dora Charles, 59, helped Deen open her flagship Savannah, Ga., restaurant Lady & Sons 22 years ago, and still works there as a chef today. Even though the two were very close at one point — Deen called them "soul sisters" — Charles said she witnessed Deen use racial slurs and treat her black employees unfairly.

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Deen reportedly once told Charles to stand in front of the restaurant and ring a dinner bell and holler for customers to "come and get it."

"I said, 'I'm not ringing no bell.' That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day," Charles told the New York Times. "It's just time that everybody knows that Paula Deen don’t treat me the way they think she treat me."

Charles said Deen once asked another employee to dress up in an old-style Aunt Jemima costume for customers' entertainment. Deen has denied those claims.

Early on in their relationship, Deen reportedly told Charles, "Stick with me, Dora, and I promise you one day if I get rich you'll get rich."

Despite the promise, Charles spent years earning less than $10 an hour.

"I'm not trying to portray that she is a bad person," Charles said. "I'm just trying to put my story out there that she didn’t treat me fairly and I was her soul sister."

Investigators for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition conducted an investigation into Charles' racism claims at Lady & Sons.

"There was evidence of systemic racial discrimination and harassment at the operations," the report found, but also stated "there is limited evidence of direct racism or racial discrimination."

Deen's publicity team sent out a statement refuting Charles' claims against the celebrity chef.

"Fundamentally Dora's complaint is not about race but about money," the statement said. "It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen."

Deen, 66, admitted in a lawsuit deposition filed last month to using the N-word before in the past. The suit was brought by a former employee at one of Deen's other restaurants who alleged discrimination.

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Related stories:

Jimmy Carter: Public Should Forgive Paula Deen

Paula Deen Fires Lawyers a Week After Dumping Her Agent

Paula Deen's 'Today' Appearance Ends in Tears  

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