Fallen Food network star PAULA DEEN is cooking up a comeback, but friends fear her badboy brother could wreck plans to rebuild her business empire.

The allegedly deplorable behavior of Earl “Bubba” Hiers triggered the lawsuit that forced Paula to admit that she’d used the "N-word", setting off the scandal that cost her three TV shows and a fortune in lost endorsement deals.

The silver-haired diva of southern-fried cooking has bounced back thanks to a private investment firm that’s given her a cash infusion of up to $100 million.

But sources warn that Hiers – who was accused of boozing on the job, using racial slurs and watching pornography on computers at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, which he co-owned with Paula – could ruin her career revival.

Bubba’s seafood restaurant, a waterfront Savannah landmark for 10 years, closed its doors for good on April 3. In a press statement, Bubba said he will explore other options for the waterfront property.

“Paula’s advisers had urged her to start afresh by closing the restaurant and putting Bubba out to pasture, but she’s sticking by him,” a friend told The ENQUIRER.

“She’s keeping Bubba as a partner in new plans for the restaurant property as well as including him in her other businesses. It would have been a perfect time to cut Bubba lose after the restaurant closed, but Paula just can’t do it. And if he messes up again and drags Paula into another lawsuit, it could crush her career for good.”

Paula’s empire toppled after Hiers was sued by Lisa Jackson, a former manager at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House.

Jackson also accused Hiers of making unwanted advances, and sources say he’s turned a deaf ear to Paula’s pleas to clean up his act.

“After the scandal broke, Paula begged Bubba to enroll in personal sensitivity training so they can say he’s rehabilitated and can work respectfully around women,” the friend claims.

“Bubba just laughed and said if there’s anything he knows, it’s women.

“He’s even bragged to friends that as Paula climbs back to the top, he’ll be right there with her.”

Meanwhile, friends fear Paula’s support for her brother – whom she took in as a teen after their mother died – is taking a disastrous toll.

As The ENQUIRER has reported, 67-year-old Paula has recently gained 40 pounds and continues to gorge on fatty foods and drink alcohol, despite having Type 2 diabetes.

“Paula’s under a lot of stress, not only in trying to rise above her public beat-down, but also to make good on the millions pumped into her enterprise,” the first source said.

“Getting pressured to ax her brother certainly adds to that stress, and we worry she’s a candidate for a fatal heart attack. “