(WBIR) A huge crowd of fans greeted celebrity cook Paul Deen at the opening of her new retail store in Gatinburg on Friday.
"I am so happy to be here!!" Deen yelled as she appeared to loud cheers and shouts of "We love you, Paula" with her husband Michael and local leaders at the new shop on the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg.
The new Paula Deen Store features kitchenware, souvenirs, food products, magazines and cookbooks.
Deen, who called the crowd the "best medicine" she could have, has launched a comeback tour of sorts. Last year, the woman known for her traditional southern cooking came under fire for alleged racial comments she made in the past. The Food Network eventually dropped her from the network that made her a star.
But Deen's core fans never seemed to desert her, and were excited to see what's next for their favorite cook.
Deen said that Gatinburg seemed like a logical place for her first store and restaurant outside her hometown of Savannah.
"When you've got good food, you want to share it with as many people as you can in one location. Of course, Savannah is a tourist town, and so is Gatlinburg. My family and I have always had a real love for Gatlinburg," said Deen.
Deen said she brought her boys to Gatlinburg many times as they were growing up, and they always loved it.
"I like to think of these people who come to Gatlinburg as my people-- family oriented, just like me," she said.
Deen's new enterprises are expected to up to 200 jobs to Sevier County, but said it's about more than that.
"I want it heard loud and clear, we're not here just to make money but to become part of the community and give back to the community," she said.
Deen presented a $10,000 check to the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains on behalf of her charity, The Bag Lady Foundation, and the Island in Pigeon Forge.
Paula will stick around East Tennessee this weekend for her live cooking shows in the LeConte Center Saturday and Sunday. The 90-minute show will be a mix of cooking demonstrations, games and personal stories.
She will also launch "The Paula Deen Network," a subscription-based Internet network in September.
With the tough times Deen has been through, she seemed to be truly touched by the response of the East Tennessee crowd.
"At my age, you think can I do this? I'm kind of tired, but when I get around these people I have an energy you would not believe," said Deen.