Lowell Hawthorne founded Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill in 1989, bringing a taste of the Caribbean to New York City and eventually nationwide. But despite his success, Hawthorne, 57, took his own life, shooting himself in the head at his Bronx factory.
He committed suicide at approximately 5:10 p.m. Saturday. Police found a handgun and a note but did not disclose what he wrote, according to the New York Daily News.
“Our hearts are broken, and we are struggling to process our grief over this tremendous loss,” the Golden Krust company said in a statement. “Lowell was a visionary, entrepreneur, community champion and above all a committed father, family man, friend and man of faith.”
Golden Krust is a family-owned business. Hawthorne and his 10 siblings and extended family united for the business, inspired by the recipes passed down from family patriarch and master baker Ephraim Hawthorne, including signature Jamaican beef patties.
At the time of his death, he was facing tax issues and being sued by a former maintenance staffer, Robert Wray, who said he never received overtime in his 11 years with the company.
“Wray’s May 8 lawsuit contends more than 100 other Golden Krust staffers were similarly stiffed on OT,” according to the Daily News. “The case — which seeks class-action status — is pending.”
Before shooting himself, surveillance video shows Hawthorne talking with two workers who left the room, according to the New York Post. It’s not clear if the workers saw him commit suicide, but one of the workers called 911.
In 2016, Hawthorne was featured on the CBS TV show “Undercover Boss.”
“Being on ‘Undercover Boss’ provided a golden opportunity to get an inside look from the perspective of the employee, the franchisee and the customer,” he said in a statement after filming the show. “I walked away with an extraordinary sense of pride for our amazing employees. When it boils down to it, it’s about our product and the committed people behind it.”
As president and CEO, Hawthorne transformed Golden Krust into a national franchise with more than 120 restaurants in nine states. Just last week, the company announced the opening of a second location in Houston, Texas. Golden Krust also operates a retail division that provides Jamaican patties to the New York City public schools; the penal system; military channels; and over 20,000 supermarkets, club stores and dollar stores nationwide.
Hawthorne migrated to the U.S. in 1981. He was employed as an accountant to the New York Police Department while pursuing studies leading to an associate’s degree obtained at Bronx Community College, according to his Facebook page. Hawthorne later studied business administration at Baruch and Lehman Colleges.
On Nov. 28, he posted on Facebook a link to an October article in the Jamaica Observer in which he was featured. He expressed in his post that he was grateful for his success.
“I was always in search of the next honest means to make a dollar,” he said.
“Like many transplanted Caribbean nationals, I struggled to work and raise a family. I can only thank God for everything I have achieved, and if my story here can inspire others to rise up and give it a go, then I would have succeeded in doing something meaningful.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. considered Hawthorne a good friend.
“Lowell Hawthorne was a good friend, and was always ready to help my office whenever we needed him. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and employees during this difficult time.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer tweeted:
“Lowell Hawthorne’s contributions to NYC went far beyond his business. My thoughts are with his loved ones today.”
Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness also offered his condolences on Twitter:
“My condolences to the friends, family and employees of Jamaica-born Lowell Hawthorne, CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill.”
His wife, Lorna, three sons and a daughter survive Hawthorne. A company spokesperson said funeral arrangements would be announced at a later date.