Family Run

Family Run: The Family That Created Golden Krust Restaurants Share Their Recipe For Success

"I really feel privileged and proud to be a part of this family. I wouldn't work for anybody else."

Family Run is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Every month, we profile amazing families who work together in some capacity. From starting businesses, inventing products, collaborating artistically, and beyond, these family members are making positive contributions to the world together, and strengthening their family bonds in the process.

This month, we interviewed the Hawthornes, a family running a chain of restaurants called Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, known for its Jamaican-style patties, breads, and buns. The Hawthornes, who started the business in the family's basement, now own 120 Golden Krust restaurants in nine states with the help of over 40 family members. And they aren't slowing down. 

To learn more about this amazing family-run business, we visited Golden Krust in the Bronx, and talked to a few of the Hawthornes at work.

"The journey began in Jamaica with my parents, Ephraim and Mavis Hawthorne, two wonderful people who certainly — without them — we wouldn't have achieved the success we enjoy today," Lowell Hawthorne, president and CEO, told A Plus. The couple instilled in their children, and their children's children "their dedication, their leadership, their spirituality," but most importantly, their commitment to putting people first. "They have taught us some real good values," Leroy Hawthorne, vice president of retail sales and Lowell's brother, added. "And we have held onto those values ... I suppose that is what has kept us together as a family." 

Those principles have indeed guided the family business since its 1940s origins in St. Andrews, Jamaica. Then, Lowell worked as a minibus driver, DJ, and farmer, all the while helping out in his father's bakery. After immigrating to the United States in 1981, Lowell spent the next 10 years as an accountant for the New York Police Department. 

Every year, Lowell'a father would come visit the family in the Bronx and make "Easter buns." The baked goods became so popular with people from all over the city, Lowell was inspired to open a bakery. Of course, he couldn't do it alone. Calling a family meeting with his 10 other siblings, Lowell explained his concept of a bakery specializing in the Jamaican-style patties, breads, and buns they'd all loved since childhood. "He's an extraordinary person and visionary," Leroy said. "I believe in his dreams. I believe in his aspiration." 

As the middle child, Lowell was only in his 20s when he came up with this seemingly crazy idea. Nonetheless, every family member, regardless of age, was willing to put everything they had toward making that dream a reality. They mortgaged their homes, quit their jobs, did whatever was required of them "to be a part of this great and extraordinary journey."

That journey has its fair share of ups and downs, but wherever it takes them, the Hawthornes travel it together.

Lowell Hawthorne
Lowell Hawthorne Photo Credit: Melissa Pellicano

For Latalya Morrison, director of marketing and public relations, one of the main benefits of working at Golden Krust is the pervasive sense of, not just employee, but family loyalty. "You know everyone is working toward the same goal," she explained. "In a traditional work environment, people might just be there because they need a job, but we're all really here because we want to see it [the company] succeed." 

That commitment is shared by her cousin and Lowell's son, Daren Hawthorne, executive vice president of franchising and corporate counsel. "You get to see the people you love every day," Daren said. "Obviously, when we have certain conversations that have to do with business, it can be difficult sometimes, but you do get work with your family."

"In this environment, we've really learned to put the business first," Latalya added. "And we really try to strive and work well together so…  we have disagreements, but we're able to professionally work through them for the better of the company." 

It’s the toughest times that make them the strongest.

Two years ago, Golden Krust recalled their beef and chicken products "due to misbranding and undeclared allergens," according to a 2015 press release.  "We thought this was one of the hardest things that had ever confronted us," Leroy said. "But out of this recall, we have been able to establish ourselves even on a better footing ... We stood together as a family. We came together, and we worked together. Out of that, we have managed to overcome tremendously." 

What enables the Hawthornes to stand together, through both good times and bad, is that they stand for something — "to put people first." As the CEO, Lowell acknowledges, "I have to work twice as hard because I have to lead by example." Through exemplifying Golden Krust's core values every day and, sometimes, even undercover, he and Leroy have instilled in their children indelible life lessons that they, in turn, plan to teach their own children someday.

"Golden Krust was built on family. It's a legacy; it's a tradition," Lowell said. "To me, it's one of the most important factors in my life ..." His brother, unsurprisingly, agreed. "Family means the world to me ... I really feel privileged and proud to be a part of this family," Leroy added. "I wouldn't work for anybody else. Take care of your family ... because that's all you've got."

And the Hawthornes intend to keep that sentiment alive for generations to come, and defy the odds that often plague family businesses.

According to Forbes, "less than one third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation," and another 50 percent don't make it from second to third. But those statistics don't scare the Hawthornes; they inspire them. 

"To ensure the family members are taken care of," they're opening their newest locations as corporate stores, rather than franchises. 

"We're driven by breaking the norms," Daren said. "I plan on having my kids in the business, my kids' kids in the business, and hopefully when I'm gone, it's still within the family. That's my ultimate goal." 

Latalya concurred: "To just envision our children one day being here, keeping that legacy going, is very important. And that's our goal… to really make history with having such a big business just continue to stay in the family."

The Hawthornes prepare the new generation to take the next step on their collective journey by first and foremost ensuring they have a solid education.

Leroy Hawthorne
Leroy Hawthorne Photo Credit: Melissa Pellicano

Daren admires the "hard work and discipline" that has guided his parents from immigrating to the U.S. with "literally nothing in their pockets" to their current, widespread success. "A lot of us came from food stamps and government assistance, so we watched them work very hard," he said. "They [our parents] had to wait to go back to school after they built Golden Krust so that they could send us to school and … bring that knowledge back here."

Like so much else in the Hawthorne family business, that appreciation and respect transcends generations. "One of the things I do admire about this generation, and the [succeeding] generation, is the fact they have embraced higher education," Lowell said. "And that is important to think outside the box, that is important to think globally, and that is important to capitalize on ... what it will take to move this organization into the 21st century."  

That commitment to education both begins in the Hawthorne family and extends beyond it. Every year, Golden Krust gives 50 scholarships to American students and 12 scholarships to Jamaican students. "We believe the more you give, the more you get," Leroy explained. "My dad's got a saying, 'People over profit.' And we've definitely lived up to that creed," Daren added. 

"We're really big on social responsibility so I think for the future I see ... our company expanding in terms of business, but also leaving a footprint in the community," Latalya said.  

Not only do the Hawthornes plan to carry on their most important — and most delicious — family tradition, but they want the whole world to join them.

"Golden Krust exists to take the taste of the Caribbean to the world. And how are we gonna do this?" Lowell said. "We're gonna do it by getting the family involved, getting them to believe in it and be able to deliver on that vision." 

Lucky for the elder generation, the youngsters already do. "We wanna — and I always like to say this — leave this place better than we found it," Daren said. "Our parents set the groundwork for Golden Krust. We're a large company, but we know we can make it much larger." Golden Krust has already established itself as the go-to brand for Jamaican-style patties and baked goods for thousands of families across the country – and soon, the continent. With 120 stores in nine states, the Hawthornes plan to open even more in three new regions, including Canada and the Caribbean, over the next five years. 

"I think they're ready," Lowell said of the next generation. "As I look on the horizon of retirement, I think they're ready." When he considers what his son, his niece, and all the other Hawthornes have already accomplished together, he knows the company's future is as bright as, well, a piece of golden crust. 

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.