Paula Deen's "soul sister" speaks out

Dora Charles, the 59-year-old black cook that worked with Deen for 22 years, says she felt unequal

By Prachi Gupta
Published July 25, 2013 2:58PM (EDT)

A month after disgraced celebrity chef Paula Deen lost her food empire over allegations of racism, another employee and former friend -- her self-identified soul sister, in fact -- is speaking out against Deen.

Dora Charles, who at 59 lives in the outskirts of Savannah in her trailer home, was Deen's cooking partner at restaurant Lady & Sons for more than two decades. "I’m not trying to portray that she is a bad person,” she told the New York Times. “I’m just trying to put my story out there that she didn’t treat me fairly and I was her soul sister.”

According to Charles, their relationship was never equal, and for her, at least, race was always an issue:

The money was not great. Mrs. Charles spent years making less than $10 an hour, even after Ms. Deen became a Food Network star. And there were tough moments. She said Ms. Deen used racial slurs. Once she wanted Mrs. Charles to ring a dinner bell in front of the restaurant, hollering for people to come and get it.

“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’ ” Mrs. Charles said. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”

Upon looking into Charles' claims, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH organization found that "there was evidence of systemic racial discrimination and harassment at the operations” at the restaurant, but that “there is limited evidence of direct racism or racial discrimination” by Deen.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Dora Charles Food Network Paula Deen Racism Soul Sister