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June 24, 2013

Deen's Savannah Kitchen: Lunch Boycott or Still Frying High?

Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. Two news stories describing the same scene in the same place, both backed up with photos, but attesting to something completely opposite.

I’m talking about the scene on Saturday outside celebrity chef Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah. This was one day after Deen was the focus of a controversy based on racially-tinged comments she made which terminated her relationship with The Food Network. For our purposes, however,  what’s curious is what did or didn’t happen on Saturday in front of Deen’s establishment, The Lady and Sons, which is perennially packed with patrons typically lined up down the block.

The NYT photo above accompanies an article titled: At Georgia Restaurant, Patrons Jump to Defend a Chef From Her Critics. It starts off:

The line of Paula Deen fans waiting for her restaurant here to open grew throughout the hot, muggy morning Saturday.

The presence of the crowd, along with other facts in the Times write-up (such as harsh feedback for the the Food Channel on its Facebook site), would suggest an endorsement of Mrs. Deen. On the other hand, a smaller crowd would have its own ramifications. Fewer patrons would invite the idea that the locals were expressing their own disapproval, suggesting — in an even larger way — that the South is also evolving rapidly in terms of race and the culture wars. …Which brings us to the two diametric photos.

The website, Eater, also sent out a photographer on Saturday, its post (Paula Deen’s Restaurant Lady and Sons Is a Ghost Town) actually making mention of the NYT photo and article. Setting up the contradiction, Eater reports how, from at least mid-day on, there was hardly a person to be seen in front of the restaurant. Quoting its photographer/reporter:

Normally lines to get into the restaurant, even in the middle of the afternoon, are “always several blocks long” according to Stephen Thurston, photographer and Savannah resident.

Did people really abandon the restaurant on moral grounds, which is what Eater suggests? While Eater plays up the ambiguity, I expanded a different photo in their article of the “normally mobbed” outdoor host station to full size.

The sign at the host desk, although partially blocked, appears to read: “Sorry, we are (something).”

Hmm. Could the shame of the infamous owner have cause the establishment to shut down early perhaps, the restaurant normally open on Saturdays from 10 am till 11 pm?  If that was the case, we can surmise that the South, or Deen’s fans, at least, didn’t turn on her as much as she might have discouraged them? Or, taking reservations these days, is it possible that people aren’t waiting because the place is full?

Just to make things more interesting, by the way, someone on Twitter posted a photo taken at almost the same time as the NYT photo — but from the reverse angle. The text by Tweeter, @JulieFertig, reads: Crowds still flock to @Paula_Deen Savannah restaurant Lady & Sons despite her fallout with the Food Network. And here’s still another TwitPic (closer to opening time, and also endorsing the turnout — which by the way, shows no evidence of the “sorry” sign.)

Whichever photo and scenario is more accurate, however, is probably a lot less interesting than the fact that each conception is amply represented in the discussion threads at The Times, Eater, Atlantic and other places. You’ve got those who say that Deen’s occasional expression of racial slurs is not unusual for the South, especially given the time period Deen, the great granddaughter of a slave owner, grew up. And then, you have those who feel that Deen got exactly what she deserved last week, her attitudes no more healthy than her food.

Thank you to Twitter friend and expert on all things political and gastronomic, Regina Schrambling (@gastropoda).

(photo 1: Dylan Wilson for The New York Times. caption: People lined up Saturday outside Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, Ga. Many were angry that Food Network had dropped Ms. Deen. photos 2-4: Stephen Thurston/Eater. caption: The media firestorm continues to swirl around the now ex-Food Network personality Paula Deen, and the usually bustling scene at her Savannah, GA restaurant The Lady and Sons is nonexistent. Eater sent a photographer to scope it out, and above and below are photos from mid-day on Saturday. It is aghost town.)

  • bks3bks

    I’m shocked, shocked, to find racist attitudes in Savannah!

    Shorter Paula Deen cookbook: roll stick of butter in cinnamon and white sugar. Eat.

    –bks

    • black_dog_barking

      Hadn’t seen that recipe. Have to try it, sounds good!!

    • Alfred Hussein Neuman

      I’ve eaten there and the food really is great.

    • northierthanthou.com

      Lotta white sheets in them closets.

  • black_dog_barking

    The wildly different stories told by this pictures makes an argument for publishing accurate image metadata along with images. Perhaps the time stamp and a gps fix would clear up some of these ambiguities. More information bandwidth from better technology places more burden on the publisher as well as the producer of the images.

    • Scarabus

      I was thinking exactly the same thing.

    • northierthanthou.com

      Excellent point.

  • marie

    Here I thought you were going to talk about how the general physique of the people waiting in line at the restaurant (in the first image) look like they would eat there often, i.e. are generally overweight. To make things more scientific, I counted heads. Of the 22 people visible, I counted 10 as visibly overweight. That’s not even half, but it skews the perception. Even if the photo were not identified as outside a PD restaurant, I would remark on it. Nothing would deter them from their food, not even a scandal.

    No doubt remarking on the unhealthiness of PD’s food is old hat by now, but couldn’t one make the argument that overweight populace is as much a sign of the “new” South as the racial attitudes are a sign of the “old” South? Or maybe the South has nothing to do with it. I’m not sure the analogy quite fits, but my brain is trying to make something of it.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      I admire your point about drawing larger points here. Beyond the clear cut evidence of two media organizations using images to feed different inferences, though (yes, metadata is not just for the NSA), I felt I’d do best just set the table for you and the readership to entertain larger conclusions.

  • Savannah Local

    As someone from Savannah I have a small issue with a statement above.

    “Fewer patrons would invite the idea that the locals were expressing their own disapproval, suggesting — in an even larger way — that the South is also evolving rapidly in terms of race and the culture wars.”

    Are you actually suggesting locals eat there? That’s ridiculous. Even before she was outed as a racist no locals ever ate there.

  • Alfred Hussein Neuman

    Does using the N word make you a racist? A racist believes one race is superior (or inferior) to another race. Don’t you mean bigot? If someone calls a asian a chink, a white a cracker or an Italian a wop, are they racists too, or bigots?

    • Stanco55

      It sure makes you sound just like one (if you’re not of the maligned race), because using it means you’re comfortable with all the baggage, abuse and power that word entails.

      But you’re not really interested in any of the above questions, you’re just interested in playing little mind/word games that ultimately and obviously reveal more about you than anything else…

  • jonst

    this–the episode–says a lot more about the legal system, and the MSM, than it says about Deen or race relations to me. The photo to me is simply a photo of people…fat people, not so fat people. People.

  • Darby Shaw
  • Alfred Hussein Neuman

    Wow, you sure told me off! You didn’t even attempt to answer my questions. I guess you don’t know the difference between the meanings of the words. Aside from that, I’m not sure what your first sentence has to do with anything other than must you think your superior than me, so I guess you’re a racist too.

  • Scarabus

    The people in the center of the top photo look as if they’ve been eating lots of helpings of that recipe.

  • Stanco55

    AHM, you’re obviously a man with a tremendous thirst for knowledge; and although some may think you a race baiting troll, I for one, anxiously await to hear all the other amazing contributions you will continue to make on the myriad of subjects discussed here!

  • Alfred Hussein Neuman

    Stanco55 – I’ll type this really slowly so you can read it and answer…..What is a racist? What is a bigot? They have different meanings. If you continue to misuse the word racist, like MSNBC and most of the MSNs, you are either ignorant or trying to flame racial fires.

  • Stanco55

    Yes, you really did type slowly- it took you eight whole days… to repeat yourself!

    I even went outta my way to provide you an easy out to redeem yourself. Instead, after all this time to think this over, you chose to prove me right, and prove just how utterly dead boring you really are. The one cardinal sin no one can forgive.

    You’re little game of semantics is so very old and tired and sad; and I’m sorry no one will play with you.

    Ever consider hard core drugs?

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