Lowell Hawthorne’s Golden Touch

Before he decided to follow in his parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps, Greenburgh’s Lowell Hawthorne, 54, tried his hand at many jobs, from bus driver to DJ. And though working as a DJ combined his culture and his love of music, when he found his calling, he decided to follow a different beat.

“One day I awoke with a vision that I shared with my wife, Lorna, and with my brothers and sisters,” he recalls, his voice brimming with emotion. “It was basically to restart here what we learned from our parents—to own a bakery.”

His parents, Mavis and Ephraim Hawthorne, were born in Jamaica, where they operated a bakeshop for more than 50 years. “I grew up learning about and understanding the concept of entrepreneurship,” Hawthorne says.

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After graduating from Oberlin High School and Grantham College in Jamaica, Hawthorne came to the United States in 1981 to live in the Bronx with his oldest sister. While working in the equipment section of the New York City Police Department from 1981 to 1993, Hawthorne earned an associate’s degree in accounting from Bronx Community College. 

He also encountered Bossville Rhoden, then a police academy rookie,  while working in the academy’s supply room. “I met [Hawthorne] in 1982 in the equipment section,” says Rhoden, now a retired police sergeant. “I just happened to be the next person on line” at the window. “I’m Jamaican. He’s Jamaican. And we became friends then and there,” Rhoden recalls. When Hawthorne told him his idea about opening a business, the officer says, “I listened. We knew nothing about baking except what our parents taught us.”

Hawthorne’s education continued at Baruch and Lehman Colleges, where he studied business administration.

In 1989, Hawthorne’s family members pooled their resources and mortgaged their homes to open the first Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill at 1381 East Gunhill Road in the Bronx. “When Golden Krust first opened, it specialized in baked goods and culinary staples of the Jamaican community,” Hawthorne explains. Eventually, in addition to Jamaican patties, Golden Krust began offering a full line of Caribbean cuisine, including jerk chicken, oxtail, curry chicken, and escovitch fish. 

Getting the business up and running  was at times tedious and complex, requiring him to navigate New York City’s numerous building and health department codes. Still, the Hawthorne family persevered. “During the first four years, my family opened 17 stores,” Hawthorne says (they currently operate 120 stores in nine states). “Many Caribbean emigrants with [entrepreneurial] spirit saw our company expanding across the United States and expressed interest in expanding the concept.”

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Forbes featured Golden Krust as one of the fastest growing minority-owned businesses in the US in 1995, and, in 1996, Hawthorne secured a license to franchise his operation. 

Rhoden retired from the police force in 2002 and promptly bought a Golden Krust franchise on 5 Main Street in Spring Valley, in Rockland County; it has since relocated to inside the nearby train station. Rhoden rose within the company’s corporate structure to become procurement and logistics manager.

Hawthorne rose, too: He was named the Jamaica Observer’s Diaspora Business Leader for 2010 and received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn the following year.

But perhaps the most impressive rise is that of the Golden Krust patty itself. They are distributed in New York City public schools, throughout the state penal system, and at United States military bases. The chain’s retail products are available in more than 70 locations in the city and 50 more along the East Coast, including 12,000 supermarket chains across the United States such as Costco, Publix, Pathmark, ShopRite, and Stop & Shop. Riding that success are 225 employees in a South Bronx plant and 1,600 employees system-wide.

While he won’t divulge the secret recipe for his Jamaican patties, Hawthorne happily admits that “we’re hoping to take Jamaican patties mainstream and have one on every plate by 2020.” 

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Hawthorne believes in sharing the fruits of his success with his employees and community. “We provide scholarships for students in the Cayman Islands through the Mavis & Ephraim Hawthorne Golden Krust Foundation,” he says. “My parents believed in education, and this is my way of honoring them.” Established in 2005, the foundation awards scholarships to more than 300 graduating high school students and sends annual contributions to primary schools in Jamaica. In 2006, the company established scholarship endowments for Bronx Community College and the University of the West Indies, now worth more than $200,000.

Hawthorne and his family were drawn to Greenburgh in 1991, lured by its diverse community, school system, and close proximity to the company headquarters. He and his wife of more than 25 years have four children, and they’re all in the business: Haywood, 33, is vice president of manufacturing and information technology; Omar, 30, is director of franchise development and community affairs; Monique, 28, directs the Mavis & Ephraim Hawthorne Golden Krust Foundation; and Daren, 27, is an attorney and executive vice president of franchising and corporate counsel.

Hawthorne is godfather to Rhoden’s daughter, Ashley, and Rhoden is godfather to Monique. “I’m like a father to all of his children, and he’s the same to mine,” Rhoden says. “He’s a wonderful friend, father, husband, and boss who takes care of his employees as family.”

“My family and I play tennis and attend church on weekends, and we enjoy meeting people,” Hawthorne says. “It was challenging becoming a father, especially when we lived in the projects in New York City. We [eventually] bought a home in the Bronx and used the same house to finance the Golden Krust business.”

His book, The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business, outlines some of his personal and professional challenges and his business perspective. To anyone who wants to open a business, he advises: “Follow your dreams and aspirations, and don’t let anyone deter you; and be well informed and passionate. Success means sticking to your dreams and aspirations without wavering, no matter how daunting the tasks, with a clear plan of action,” says Hawthorne. It’s also important, he says, to  “seize the opportunity and the moment. Risk not taken is opportunity missed.” 

Janie Rosman, a freelance writer and enterprise reporter, believes everyone has a story and needs someone to tell it. She chronicles the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project at Kaleidoscope Eyes.

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