Everybody loves a comeback—or at least that’s what one private equity company is betting on.
An affiliate of Najafi Cos. announced it’s partnering with Paula Deen Ventures to help the celebrity chef grow her business. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal pegged the investment at between $75 million and $100 million and wrote it would help the celebrity chef steer away from a pure licensing model.
That would mean the venture could partner with others rather than just relying on Deen’s likeness to sell products.
Phoenix-based Najafi owns BMG Music Service and the Book-of the-Month Club. By its own description, Najafi often invests in business that are “out of popular favor,” according to the Journal’s story.
The move comes several months after Deen admitted she made racially controversial remarks, an acknowledgement that sent the Food Network and dozens of retailers fleeing from the Southern food celebrity.
(Read more: Paula Deen parts with agent)
It also begs the question: Does time heal all wounds? Not quite, branding and public relations experts say.
“Time does not kill a crisis,” said Mike Paul, a reputation and crisis PR expert at Reputation Doctor. “Working on the crisis from a humble perspective kills it. I think she’s exposed and the investors are exposed.”
While Deen’s brand was “excellent” before the crisis, many still believe she is a racist, Paul said.
Moving forward, Mark Pasetsky, CEO and founder of PR firm Mark Allen & Co., said he does not think that Deen’s popularity will achieve pre-controversy levels.
(Read more: Target, drugmaker end relationshipswith Paula Deen)
“Can she have a successful business? Yes,” Pasetsky said. “Will she have a full-blown comeback? Absolutely not.”
Although Pasetsky said he wouldn’t feel comfortable getting behind Deen, he does think it appears to make sense from a business perspective given her strong fan base.
On Twitter, Deen has more than 1.2 million followers—eclipsing the following of rival chefs Giada De Laurentiis, Ina Garten, Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray.
In this foodie space, Stephen Brown, who is managing director of the Atlanta office for communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, does think there is space for Deen to make a comeback, adding that the American consumer has “a limitless capacity for forgiveness.”
(Read more: Paula Deen’s fans defend her)
“I would think that on the whole the folks who make this kind of decision say overall there’s a lot more to be gained,” Brown said about Najafi’s decision to partner with Deen.
Despite thinking it’s worth giving Deen a second chance, Brown’s not quite convinced the idea is a smart one.
“I think maybe the verdict is still out about that,” he added.
—By CNBC’s Katie Little. Follow her on Twitter @KatieLittle.