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Paula Deen closes restaurant at center of harassment lawsuit

Food Network personality Paula Deen laughs before throwing out the first pitch prior to the Washington Nationals versus New York Mets MLB ba
Food Network personality Paula Deen laughs before throwing out the first pitch prior to the Washington Nationals versus New York Mets MLB ba

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Celebrity chef Paula Deen's popular Savannah, Georgia, restaurant, which was at the center of a racially charged lawsuit against her, abruptly closed on Thursday after a decade in business.

"Thank you for 10 great years," Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, owned by Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, told customers on its website. "Uncle Bubba's is now closed."

A white employee of Uncle Bubba's sued Deen and her brother claiming she had been the victim of sexual harassment and that there was a pattern of racial discrimination against black employees at the restaurant.

Deen said in a deposition in the case that she had used a racial slur, which prompted Scripps Networks Interactive Inc to drop her cooking show from its cable television channel, the Food Network.

The controversy prompted companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Target Corp and Home Depot Inc to stop selling Deen products.

A federal judge last summer dismissed the lawsuit.

Hiers closed the restaurant "in order to explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located," Jaret Keller, spokesman for the Deen family, said in a written statement.

"At this point, no specific plans have been announced and a range of uses are under consideration in order to realize the highest and best use for the property."

Keller declined to comment on whether the restaurant's closure was related to the lawsuit.

Deen has lately been staging a comeback, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that a private equity firm agreed earlier this year to invest $75 to $100 million in the recently formed Paula Deen Ventures.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Richard Chang)

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