Lowell Hawthorne has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. “People said they saw it in me from the beginning … whether it was in my acquisition of marbles from children at school, or my management of livestock for profit … Personally, I feel as if I had a very active imagination, the ability to visualize something and just will it or work it into being,” he writes in his recently published memoir, The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business. Today, having worked as a farmer, a minibus driver and a DJ, Hawthorne is the president and CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, an independent family-owned business that is the largest Caribbean business in the United States.
Hawthorne came from humble beginnings in rural Jamaica, where his father established Hawthorne’s Bakery in 1949. He believed that his fortune awaited him in America and moved to New York in 1981. After a few hardships and working with the New York Police Department, he went into business for himself, operating an accounting business for several years. By the time members of his family moved to the States, he was consumed with the idea of opening a bakery. “It didn’t take long for the synergies of the family to come together around an activity that was always in our blood,” he writes.
The first Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery opened in 1989, in the Bronx, which had a strong Jamaican community. “It was very challenging at first for us to come up with some of our own recipes,” Hawthorne says. He traveled to London, Jamaica and other countries in search of the best recipes for patty crust and meat fillings. “And we worked for months to perfect the product until we came up with a recipe and a product we owned and had mastered.”
Before long, there was a booming market with an appetite for Golden Krust’s signature patties, flaky baked pastries with a variety of spicy fillings, and other authentic foods with origins in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. By 1996, the Golden Krust organization had 17 restaurants, all in New York City, and had expanded the brand through franchising. As reported in the Encyclopedia of African American Business, Vol.1, in that same year Golden Krust netted annual sales that exceeded $16.5 million.
Hawthorne, 52, comes from a family of 11 brothers and sisters. Though he may be the visionary for Golden Krust, he is quick to point out that it is a family affair, with everyone working in the business and being a part of the concept. Today, GK’s state-of-the-art manufacturing headquarters, still in the Bronx, takes up an entire city block, with 220 employees at the factory where they produce 400 patties per minute. The company has 125 franchises from Massachusetts to Florida and 1,600 employees at the stores. Systemwide sales for 2011 was $100 million.
Hawthorne says Golden Krust is presently focused on the U.S. markets with different channels, which include the franchise channel; a supermarket channel, with Costco and Sam’s Clubs; and institutions, which are penal systems and school systems. “At some point, when we have saturated the U.S. market, we will think about going to Europe, especially London; perhaps five years down the road,” he says.
Looking back on what he describes as “an extraordinary journey,” Hawthorne says, “I was armed with hands-on training in the baking industry, learned from my parents in Jamaica along with what I learnt in my childhood businesses. In addition to the on-the-job training, I
also learned a lot about business while enrolled at CUNY. Over the years, I have remained current with my learning through seminars and industry, which help me to keep abreast of changing trends.”
In terms of keeping himself grounded, he says that his philosophy is “people before profit; and every day is a new beginning with a new approach and a new customer, a new way of doing business.”
He remains upbeat about business despite today’s unsteady economic
climate. “The economy poses many challenges for GK, however, we continue to be creative in our marketing
strategies by offering discount prices, opening up many other new
distribution channels. We have also introduced new sauces and other line extensions to be as relevant as possible.”
Hawthorne’s advice to anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit is to have and execute the four Ds: drive, determination, discipline and desire. “Once you possess that,” he says, “you can do all things.”