DESTIN — In Paula Deen’s world, butter is an essential part of the food pyramid and “y'all” is said often.
The atmosphere in her restaurant is no different.
In early March, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen opened in the Destin Commons. On Friday, Deen attended the official ribbon cutting and held a book signing. But before that, Deen made time to speak to the media day on Thursday.
As soon as she walked into her restaurant, the Queen of Southern Cuisine lit up. With a cheerful “good morning” to everyone and a smile on her face, she instantly started introducing herself around the room.
“Hey y’all, I’m Paula,” she said nonchalantly.
Deen is no stranger to the Panhandle. The Georgia native spoke of many summers spent visiting her grandparents in the Sunshine State.
“Florida has been a big, big part of my life,” she said. “Both sets of my grandparents lived in Florida. The only place we went on vacation was to Florida, to grandparents' homes.”
And when spring break came along, Deen always found herself back at the beach.
“When I hit 13 and 14, I knew where it was happening,” she said. “When it was my children’s turn, I would come down to chaperone and watch them like a hawk because I knew I knew what they could be doing because I had lived it.”
So it only made sense to open restaurants in Destin and Panama City.
With dishes like fried chicken, beef pot roast, chicken-fried pork chops and old-fashioned southern meatloaf, it’s hard to pick just one. But Deen said her favorite dish on the menu would have to be the fried chicken.
“The pork chop is right up there with the fried chicken 'cause it’s got gravy on it with our mashed potatoes,” Deen said as she smacked her lips. “And the sides, oh my gosh, you have to get the macaroni and cheese, and the creamed corn is out of this world.”
Deen contributes her down-to-earth demeanor to the fact that she already knew who she was by the time she became a household name.
“I was 42 when I started my business and by then I was who I was and I knew what was really important,” she said. “I know that it can be here one minute and gone the next.”
Meeting her fans and customers is one of her favorite things.
“Some people I meet make me laugh real hard and some make me cry,” she said. “It’s amazing how much people can tell me in a matter of a couple of minutes.”
Without fail, Deen said there are two things she always hears at every book signing or event.
“’You saved my life’ or ‘you’re such an inspiration to me,’” she said. “That kind of stops me, you know? When you’re looking down the tube of that camera, you never know who’s watching and you never know what’s going on in their life at that particular time.”
Her southern hospitality is evident as she personally meets and talks to every employee at the restaurant. She thanks them for sacrificing their time and makes sure they know that she is there for them, not the other way around.