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Editor's note: Lowell Hawthorne is one of the recipients of the American Association of Community Colleges' 2012 Outstanding Alumni Award. They will be honored this week at the annual AACC convention in Orlando.
Lowell Hawthorne has gone from being a struggling immigrant to the founder and CEO of the largest Caribbean business in the U.S.
His success in the baked goods retail business is the result of excellent management and the dedication and hard work of his large family.
One of 11 children, Hawthorne grew up in Jamaica and immigrated to the U.S. in 1981. His first job was as an accountant for the New York City Police Department, which he did while pursuing his associate degree at Bronx Community College (BCC). He later studied business administration at Baruch and Lehman Colleges.
Good baking skills run in Hawthorne's family; his father operated a successful and famous bakery in Jamaica. In 1989, seeking economic stability for his dependents, Hawthorne and his wife, Lorna, went into the baking business along with many of his brothers and sisters.
They were initially denied a bank loan, so the siblings mortgaged their homes and emptied their bank accounts to establish the first store. The baked goods retail outlet on East Gun Hill Road in the Bronx sold traditional Jamaican breads, buns and pastries, as well as their signature spicy Jamaican meat patties.
In the early years, all of the siblings pitched in to help, sometimes forgoing a paycheck or working two jobs when money was tight.
The basics of business
Hawthorne feels that his community college experience was integral to his success.
“The classes I took in accounting, marketing and management especially helped to broaden my knowledge and prepared me to eventually establish the largest Caribbean franchise in the United States,” he said. “Accounting is still very dear to my heart, and I am indebted to BCC for the part it played in broadening my knowledge base and providing a foundation on which to build.”
Riding a wave of Caribbean immigration, the Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill grew rapidly and by 1996 had spread to 16 branches, generating more than $10 million a year. At this point, Hawthorne decided to launch a franchise business, becoming the first black-owned Caribbean business in the U.S. to obtain a franchise license.
Today, there are 125 Golden Krust Bakery stores in nine states. His company has 150 employees in its 100,000-square-foot production plant in the South Bronx, which can make 250 patties a minute. Franchise-wide, the bakery employs more than 1,000 people. The company also operates the Golden Krust training center, which offers comprehensive training for franchisees and staff.
His sister still owns and runs the original Bronx store, and many family members—including one of Hawthorne’s sons—manage different parts of the business.
Hawthorne said that his community college experience helped him become a better citizen as well as a better business leader.
“Due to the part that my community college played in shaping my career, I was compelled to give back to make it possible for ambitious young people to have the same opportunity I had, to learn from the best and eventually make a mark on society and achieve the American dream,” he said.
In fact, Hawthorne sees philanthropy as an integral part of his business. He lives by the motto: “A positive community is everybody’s responsibility.”
In 2006, he established the Mavis and Ephraim Hawthorne Memorial Scholarship Foundation in honor of his parents. It gives scholarships to promising college students in the U.S. and Jamaica and, so far, has provided more than 150 scholarships. He also supports BCC, donating $100,000 for scholarships.
Hawthorne encourages philanthropy among his franchise owners as well. One Golden Crust franchise owner is working with the Jamaican government to pay for an $8 million (in Jamaican dollars) after-school homework center. Franchise owners also sponsor 1,000 Thanksgiving meals for New York-area senior citizens.
Many organizations have recognized Hawthorne’s business acumen and charitable work. He has been noted as one of Forbes magazine’s fastest growing minority owned-businesses and in 2007 received Black Enterprise magazine’s Outstanding Business Achievement award. In 2005, the nation of Jamaica honored Hawthorne with its highest national honor: The Order of Distinction for service to commerce and community development.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges