Charles, who has been with Deen for 22 years and helped open Lady & Sons (the Savannah, Ga. restaurant that made Deen’s career), tells the NY Times that, despite the reverential way Deen as referred to her over the years, things haven’t been as they’ve seemed. “It’s just time that everybody knows that Paula Deen don’t treat me the way they think she treat me,” Charles says.
The cook details years spent making less than $10 an hour, even after Deen became a television star, the use of racial slurs, and a time when Deen wanted the woman she referred to as her “soul sister” to ring a dinner bell in front of the restaurant, hollering “Come and get it!”
“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,'” Charles says. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.” She adds that the employee who wound up performing the act, Ineata Jones (aka Jellyroll), as asked by Deen to dress in an old-style Aunt Jemima outfit. “Jellyroll didn’t want to hear that,” Charles says. “She didn’t want to do that.”
Charles claims that Deen made her a deal in the early days: “Stick with me, Dora, and I promise you one day if I get rich you’ll get rich.” She says she now wishes she’d gotten that in writing. “I didn’t think I had to ’cause we were real close back then,” she says.
Deen’s publicity team offers the publication a statement from their client that refutes Charles’ claims: “Fundamentally Dora’s complaint is not about race but about money. It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen.”
Charles says that she’s not expecting any more money from Deen, especially not after speaking out. “I’m not trying to portray that she is a bad person,” she says. “I’m just trying to put my story out there that she didn’t treat me fairly and I was her soul sister.”
“I still have to be her friend if I’m God’s child,” Charles adds. “I might feed her with a long-handled spoon, but, yeah, I’m still her friend.”