3958 Park Avenue
Bronx, New York 10457
Telephone: (718) 655-7878
Fax: (718) 583-1883
Web site: https://www.goldenkrust.com
Sales: $32.99 million (2017 est.)
NAICS: 311999, All Other Miscellaneous Food Manufacturing
Based in Bronx, New York, Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery, Inc., operates a chain of company-owned and franchised Caribbean restaurants. The company has more than 120 units in 10 states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas. Additionally, Golden Krust sells its products via grocery stores, schools, hospitals, sporting facilities, correctional institutions, food service facilities, and special events. Golden Krust is owned and operated by the Hawthorne family.
Golden Krust was founded by Lowell Hawthorne, one of eleven siblings born in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica. His parents, Mavis and Ephraim, ran a successful bakery, Hawthorne & Sons Bakery, which they started in Saint Andrew in 1949 and where Lowell learned the business. However, the bakery could employ only so many children, especially during the difficult economic conditions of Jamaica in the 1970s, which prompted nine of the Hawthorne children to immigrate to the United States. Lowell arrived in New York in 1981, determined to one day run his own business. In the meantime, he earned a degree from Bronx Community College and took a job as a junior accountant with the New York City Police Department, a position he would hold for eight years.
Like his siblings, Lowell saved his money diligently. All of them bought homes. One of his brothers, Lloyd, worked for Royal Caribbean, the largest West Indian bakery in New York, and had a feel for the local retail situation. He realized that Royal Caribbean and the other bakeries were interested in doing business with wholesalers only and they failed to realize how large the Caribbean population in the city had become. Moreover, West Indian baked goods were not sold close enough to where the customers actually lived.
The first Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery opened in 1989 on East Gunhill Road in the Bronx, in the heart of a major West Indian neighborhood. With ovens and racks in the basement and a coffee shop on the ground floor, the store was an immediate success. In the first year, the business rang up $100,000 in sales and was already expanding. It opened another bakery next door to handle delivery routes and expanded beyond the Hudson River to open another store in New Jersey. The Hawthornes also paid attention to where their customers came from, the ones who ordered patties in bulk, and began scouting out new locations in the city. By the end of the second year, Golden Krust was operating five stores, and sales had grown to $1 million.
As Golden Krust proved successful, it was able to secure a $1 million bank loan and contribute a portion of earnings to build a new plant. In keeping with a desire to help bring opportunities to minorities, the facility, which opened in 1992, was located in one of the most disadvantaged sections of the Bronx. Whereas Ephraim Hawthorne was able to produce only a few hundred meat patties each day in Jamaica, the new Bronx plant could turn out as many as 300 per minute. They were then flash-frozen, distributed, and heated at the stores for serving.
The extra production capacity would be needed not only to supply the needs of the growing chain of Golden Krust restaurants, which spread to the other New York boroughs, but also to meet large orders. Inmates at the Rikers Island prison were served Jamaican patties, consuming more than 50,000 each month. In 1995 New York City schoolchildren started eating the patties as part of the school lunch program. Later, city hospitals; Mount Vernon, New York, schools; Rockland County, New York, jails; and supermarkets in some 30 states also would be added as customers.
By the end of 1996, Golden Krust was generating sales in excess of $10 million from 13 company-owned stores. The chain also had established a beachhead in Florida and opened a production plant in Fort Lauderdale. In addition, the company was taking steps to grow the Golden Krust chain through franchising, something that Lowell had not envisioned originally. An influx of inquiries about franchising opportunities prompted the company to investigate the formation of a program.
Franchising was a move few minority business owners were willing to make, due to the expense and time it took to set up a viable franchising structure and the danger of losing focus on running the core business. However, Lowell once again displayed his business acumen by putting together a program. Golden Krust licensed franchises for $20,000 and received 5 percent of profits, with 2 percent earmarked for cable television advertising.
In 1997 the first handful of franchised operations began to open. An early success story was Jamaican-born Hillary D. Hurbs, an acquaintance of Lowell. She already had experience at the Pepsi-Cola Company and with a consulting firm before deciding to become a Golden Krust franchisee and going to work for herself. Most Golden Krust outlets were small affairs, some as small as 600 square feet, located in enclaves of West Indian immigrants. However, Hurbs's restaurant was 4,350 square feet in size and capable of seating 74. It was located in Lower Manhattan on Chambers Street, much closer to Wall Street than to the Bronx or Brooklyn. She also would provide catering to nearby City Hall, as well as the mayor's residence at Gracie Mansion.
With a business background, Hurbs was an unusual Golden Krust franchisee. A large number of other women launched Golden Krust restaurants, but many of them were nurses. It was an understandable connection on several levels. Many West Indians worked in hospitals, leading Golden Krust to locate many of its units close by. As a result, registered nurses became regular customers, and some took an interest in going into business for themselves. Moreover, many nurses developed strong leadership skills and brought other attributes to the table. In a profile of the company by Louise Kramer in the New York Times in April 2004, Jeffrey E. Kolton, a lawyer specializing in franchising, explained why nurses made ideal candidates: “Good franchisees are people who want to follow systems. Nurses take pride in their work, are good at following orders and manuals, and they're customer service oriented.”
By mid-1999 the Golden Krust chain was 35 units strong, 24 of which were franchise stores. The company also had a new 60,000-square-foot Bronx plant, funded by $1.2 million in city-backed business development loans. The chain was now moving well beyond its base of Caribbean customers and appealing to the general public. To reach everyone, the chain modified its menu to meet the tastes of a neighborhood. For instance, it offered soy protein patty fillings for vegetarians and halal patties for Muslims. In Hurbs's Chambers Street outlet, customers could find cold cuts as well as curried goat. Golden Krust's success did not go unnoticed. In 1999 Ernst & Young named the company its Entrepreneur of the Year in New York City.
Golden Krust continued to make strides in the new century. It entered the Philadelphia market, where it hoped to open more than 20 stores within five years. The first Philadelphia outlet also introduced the chain's jerk chicken dish and was the first to use the Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill name. The management of the company to this point had been dominated by members of the Hawthorne family, but in early 2003 Golden Krust hired experienced outside management help to take the business to the next level. A vice president of franchising was brought in, as well as a director of research, development, and training; a director of marketing and public relations; and a director of franchise sales and development. The immediate goal was to better promote the Golden Krust brand and grow the franchise operation. The chain also was improving its advertising program with the signing of a spokesperson, Tiki Barber, star football player of the New York Giants.
Later in 2003 Golden Krust demonstrated that it had reached a new level of credibility when it signed a seven-year agreement with Pepsi USA. The deal included installation of Pepsi soda fountains in all Golden Krust stores, a redesign of the chain's menu boards, assistance in marketing, and help in analyzing demographics for use in selecting new store locations. Golden Krust was also in line to receive rebates based on the volume of Pepsi products it sold. Several months later the chain, in conjunction with Pepsi, introduced combo meals to drive sales for both parties. To support the program, Golden Krust launched a major advertising campaign, making full use of Barber in all media, including radio, television, newspapers, billboards, and buses.
As Golden Krust entered 2004, the chain consisted of 73 stores in 5 states. Another 12 units were under construction. However, management was aiming at a much loftier goal: 250 stores in operation within the next 5 years. Essentially, this meant opening three units each month. Because Florida, with its large Caribbean population, held great potential for the Golden Krust concept, the company conducted one-day “Franchise Opportunity Seminars” in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. The hope was to target land area developers, or people willing to open five or more stores, rather than just individual franchisees. Not only did people receive a presentation about the concept, but they also had a chance to meet individually with top Golden Krust officials.
Later in 2004 Golden Krust granted territorial rights to a franchisee for the first time in its history. Moreover, the 10-store deal was slated for the Los Angeles, California, market, in effect giving Golden Krust a coast-to-coast presence. These new units would also be the first to employ a drive-through window for takeout. The new franchisees were partners Donald Royes, June Royes, and Carl Ashman, who collectively had a great deal of experience in marketing and restaurant management. Earlier in the year they had become aware of the Golden Krust concept and, after conducting some research into the company and its leadership, decided to sign on.
The company also launched a variation on its original concept. In partnership with the Mid Bronx Senior Citizen Center, it made plans to open a Golden Krust Café, a true sit-down restaurant that would offer a seafood grill in addition to the chain's traditional fare. Golden Krust had come a long way in 15 years, and the American appetite for Jamaican food appeared to be the only limiting factor in determining its long-term potential.
Golden Krust reached a milestone in 2005 with the opening of the 100th location. By this time the company also had expanded to Atlanta, Georgia, which was home to a large Caribbean community. The company set a goal to grow in the Atlanta area, increasing from 4 locations in 2006 to 14 by 2011.
Lowell remained at the helm of Golden Krust in 2012. That year he published The Baker's Son: My Life in Business: The Story of How the Golden Krust Empire Was Built, from a Village Shop in Jamaica to the Heights of American Enterprise. Referring to the book as “a testament to the strength of family,” a review by Carol J. Elsen in the September 15, 2012, issue of Library Journal noted that “Hawthorne's is a Horatio Alger tale with a Caribbean flavor, which should find an appreciative audience among entrepreneurs and business aficionados.” After the book was published, the University of the West Indies presented Hawthorne with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his representation of Jamaican culture in the United States.
Also in 2012 Golden Krust established a relationship with the Jamaican-owned company Wisynco Group Limited, manufacturer of the Bigga line of soft drinks. Subsequently, Wisynco became the company's exclusive soft drink provider. That year Golden Krust also aligned itself with the money transfer service Xoom in a promotion that gave new customers a free $25 Golden Krust gift card for making a money transfer to Jamaica.
By 2016 Golden Krust had more than 120 restaurants in 9 states. Its Retail Division supplied Jamaican patties to more than 20,000 supermarkets, dollar stores, and membership clubs nationwide, in addition to the military, public schools, and penal institutions. Midway through 2016 Lowell was featured on the CBS reality television program Undercover Boss. Sadly, the founder's 28-year tenure as Golden Krust's president and CEO ended in December 2017, when he took his own life at the company's Bronx factory. His death was a shock to many, prompting a flurry of comments on social media from friends and admirers who remembered Lowell for his friendship, humility, and business acumen.
Following Lowell's death, a successor was not immediately named. However, the company continued to grow, opening two new locations in Houston, Texas, in early 2018. A moment of silence was observed in honor of Lowell during one of the restaurant openings, which included his son, Corporate Counsel and Executive Vice President of Franchising Daren Hawthorne, and cofounder Jacqueline Hawthorne, Lowell's sister. As of 2018 Golden Krust remained the largest Caribbean franchise chain in the nation, with locations in 10 states.
Updated, Paul R. Greenland
Golden Krust Franchising, Inc.; Golden Krust Patties, Inc.
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“Author of ‘The Baker's Son’ Receives Honorary Degree from UWI.” PR.com , November 16, 2012.
Elsen, Carol J. “Hawthorne, Lowell & Michael A. Grant. The Baker's Son: My Life in Business: The Story of How the Golden Krust Empire Was Built, from a Village Shop in Jamaica to the Heights of American Enterprise.” Library Journal, September 15, 2012, 77.
“Golden Krust Opens Two News Stores in Houston, TX.” Plus Company Updates, March 3, 2018.
Hawthorne, Lowell. The Baker's Son: My Life in Business: The Story of How the Golden Krust Empire Was Built, from a Village Shop in Jamaica to the Heights of American Enterprise. New York: Akashic, 2012.
Kramer, Louise. “For Ex-nurses, Real Money's in Takeout.” New York Times, April 4, 2004.
Poole, Shelia M. “Family-Run Businesses on the Move: Jamaican Chain Opens 4th Atlanta Restaurant.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 26, 2006.
Rouse, Deborah L. “Making Dough.” Emerge, November 1997, 13.
Southall, Ashley, and Sean Piccoli. “Golden Krust Founder Killed Himself, Police Say.” New York Times, December 4, 2017.