SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) - Paula Deen's brother, who was at the heart of the sexual and racial harassment lawsuit that cost the celebrity chef millions of dollars in endorsements, closed his Savannah restaurant Thursday, after 10 years in business.
Earl W. "Bubba" Hiers Jr. managed Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House on Whitemarsh Island, in the Savannah metropolitan area. The 350-seat, nearly 10,000-square-foot restaurant, which Hiers co-owned with Deen, was a popular tourist destination, famous for its seafood and Southern cooking.
The restaurant announced it was closing Thursday morning, on its Facebook page and former website.
"Thank you for 10 great years," the notice states, "Uncle Bubba's is now closed."
Police patrol cars remained in the area all morning and a barrier blocked traffic from entering the restaurant's parking lot. Employees, who had received no warning of the shutdown, were shocked to find out they were unemployed. Some of the long-term employees collected severance checks in the parking lot Thursday morning, according to Savannah Morning News.
A former manager of Uncle Bubba's sued Deen and Hiers in 2012, claiming that Hiers had subjected her and the staff to sexual and racial harassment.
The employee claimed that Hiers, her supervisor at Uncle Bubba's, watched pornography in the workplace, often made inappropriate comments, used racial slurs and was violent toward the primarily black kitchen staff. She said she was forced to quit after enduring five years of harassment and abuse.
Deen insisted that she and Hiers did not discriminate sexually or racially against their employees, and did not tolerate harassment in the workplace.
In her May 2013 deposition, however, Deen admitted to using the racially charged N-word 30 years earlier. The admission led the Food Network to fire Deen, who became a celebrity chef and TV star after Random House picked up her first cookbook in the late 1990s. Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, J.C. Penney and other major partners also severed ties with Deen's businesses.
During a deposition, Deen defended Hiers' character and his ability to run the restaurant, but Hiers testified that he frequently viewed pornography on company-owned computers at work and had a history of cocaine use and alcohol abuse. He also admitted taking money from the restaurant in 2010, allegedly as much as $25,000 to $30,000 a month, a practice Deen eventually discovered.
A federal judge in August 2013 dismissed the claims against Deen and Hiers, after the parties reached a settlement, which was not made public.
Hiers claimed in his deposition that Uncle Bubba's never turned much profit.
He decided "to close the restaurant in order to explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located," according to a statement released through the Key Group Worldwide, a New York-based public relations firm. "At this point, no specific plans have been announced, and a range of uses are under consideration in order to realize the highest and best use for the property. The closing is effective today, Thursday, April 3, 2014. Employees will be provided with severance based on position and tenure with the restaurant. All effort will be made to find employees comparable employment with other Savannah restaurant organizations," the statement said.
The number of former employees has not been released.
Earlier this year, Deen signed a deal with Phoenix-based private investment firm Najafi Cos. worth $75 million to $100 million. Called Paula Deen Ventures, the new partnership will be the umbrella name for Deen's many brands.
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