Schmitt says he's been a Paula Deen fan for years, mainly because it was something he shared with his late mother, Laura Schmitt. They both enjoyed watching the show and shared a deep belief in Deen's "goodness" -- a belief that has not been shaken, even following news of Deen's alleged racism.
"In a lot of ways, she reminds me of my mom -- this funny, gracious lady from a different era," he says. "My mom probably used that word and she wasn't a racist."
He points to Deen's work with the charitable Bag Lady Foundation and the sweet stories people have shared on the page as intrinsic signs of this goodness.
Joyce Dixon, a Deen fan from Claxton, Ga., says Schmitt's page caught her eye because of its emphasis on personal stories. She joined as fan No. 102 and later became the volunteer manager of the site.
Dixon says she believes the page grew in popularity so quickly because people were attracted to the "lovey-doviness" of the stories, videos and photos shared by fans. Now, the page holds regular "Love-Fest" nights for followers to share their Deen stories.
Dixon has been a fan of Paula Deen since 1997, when she first visited Deen's Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah, and there met Deen personally.
"She just had black hair with a bit of salt and pepper in it," Dixon remembers. "She wasn't a big personality or nothing. She was very involved with the customers."
Dixon recalls how at the end of the meal, Deen took the time to sit down at their table to ask how Dixon and her friends had enjoyed themselves, even asking if there were any items they'd like to see on the menu.
"That's when she won me over: the one-on-one, the face time," Dixon says. "It's Business 101, and she's got it down."
Since then, Dixon says the characterization of Deen in the media is "so wrong."
"You know what? They're the ones that did this," Schmitt says, referring to the companies that dropped Deen. "People (visiting those pages) were angry and upset and saw something they could get behind."
Sticking with Paula
Deen supporters from the page argue this "punishment" has gone too far. They say Deen has become a scapegoat for media attention -- and Dixon says that is why she dedicates so many hours to a mere Facebook page. She wants to correct the public's perception of the former Food Network star.
"It wasn't about the n-word; it was about the extortion thing, about this one crazy employee," Dixon says. "My interest is in Paula's business. To me, it's about a self-made woman. You have to ask yourself, 'If she was a man, would this happen? If she was from the North would this happen?' And you know, I don't think it would."