Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill
Lowell Hawthorne, CEO
Native country: Jamaica
Headquarters: Bronx, N.Y.
Lowell Hawthorne grew up in Jamaica, where his family owned a bakery business. It was the entrepreneurial spirit of his parents that stuck with him even as he came to America.
"Once I arrived, like most immigrants I had to find employment," he says. Hawthorne ended up being employed by the New York Police Department, eventually making his way to become an accountant within the NYPD's pension section.
After 10 years, he decided he wanted to bring what his family did best in Jamaica to the U.S. He called a family meeting to gather support and got it; family members ended up taking out second mortgages on their homes to back the launch.
Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill opened its first establishment in the Bronx, N.Y. -- where there is a large Caribbean population -- in 1989, finding strong demand. Golden Krust opened 17 restaurants throughout the boroughs of New York City in just five years and became a franchised establishment by default in 1996, Hawthorne says. It has expanded to 125 franchised stores in nine states along the Eastern Seaboard.
Hawthorne says his success depended on serving its primary customer -- the Caribbean community.
It also would not have succeeded if there was no family support.
"There are seven of us family members, along with spouses, and each person brings a very unique skill to the organization. I was able to capitalize on those skills," Hawthorne says. In the beginning, for instance, Hawthorne's father would come from Jamaica to help bake.
Hawthorne also says that to get the product to a quality he was used to in Jamaica, he ended up importing equipment, raw material and employees from Jamaica. Bringing employees to the U.S. was a whole new set of challenges, including having to secure work Visas.
"It was very challenging, but like anything else we did what we had to do," he says.
For an immigrant business owner, learning the rules and language of franchises wasn't easy.
"There was no school, no institution that one could have gone to learn the business. So I basically applied to various franchise organizations to learn about the franchise business and tried to get the best attorneys on board and best accountants on board," Hawthorne says. "There was a whole lot to do and there were not many Caribbean businesses that were in the franchise business."
Golden Krust is expanding its reach by moving to the retail market and selling to the Costco chain, penal institutions and institutional accounts, Hawthorne says.
"It was not easy putting it together, but we did it," Hawthorne says. "It was worth it to the very end."
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