NEW YORK (AP) — Lowell Hawthorne, the founder and CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill, has died in New York City. He was 57.
The city’s medical examiner’s said Hawthorne shot himself in the head at his Bronx factory on Saturday.
Hawthorne started the successful Caribbean fast food chain in 1989 by selling Jamaican beef patties, jerk chicken and breads. He built the business into a national franchise with more than 120 restaurants in nine states.
The New York Post is reporting that Hawthorne may have been worried about a tax probe and tax debt. He was also the subject of a lawsuit.
In August, Hawthorne was slapped with a proposed class-action suit alleging he cheated as many as 100-plus workers at the Golden Crust plant out of overtime pay.
The suit — fairly common in the food-service industry — remains pending in Manhattan federal court.
Al Alston, who befriended Hawthorne 30 years ago when they were both NYPD accountants and now owns a Golden Krust franchise in Queens, called his suicide “more than unexpected — it’s out of character.”
“He was always an upbeat guy,” Alston said.
Alston said he last spoke to Hawthorne two weeks ago, adding: “He was so happy about [the recent birth of] his granddaughter.”“We’ve been in a lot of tough jams and situations, but he was always a person who’d say ‘We’ll get out of it.’ And we would get out of it.”
“All his boys are married now. He was talking about taking on a different role as a father, making his boys into husbands and fathers themselves,” Alston said.
Mourners gathered at Hawthorne’s home in Elmsford, with son Omar, Golden Krust’s director of franchise and community development, saying via email: “We are still grieving, and are not conducting any interviews at this time.”
Hawthorne once appeared in an episode of CBS’ “Undercover Boss.” At the time of his death his company was planning on building a new $37 million headquarters in Rockland County.
“He was a nice boss, a wonderful guy,” longtime employee Everald Woods told the Daily News. “He’s the kind of guy you want to work for for that long. He takes care of his employees.”
In a Twitter message on Saturday, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness offered his condolences to Hawthorn’s family and employees.
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