Eugene adds voice to chorus of shock, sadness over Hawthorne’s death

Brooklyn Council Member Mathieu Eugene.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Brooklyn Council Member Dr. Mathieu Eugene as added his voice to a chorus of shock and sadness across the United States and in the Caribbean over the death of Golden Krust founder and chief executive officer Lowell Hawthorne.

“Mr. Hawthorne was a valued member of the community who used his entrepreneurial and culinary skills to create a standard of excellence that will never be forgotten,” said Dr. Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to New York City Council.

“I want to extend my prayers and deepest sympathies to his family and friends,” said Eugene, who represents the 40th Council District in Brooklyn.

Hawthorne, 57, reportedly killed himself on Saturday amid fears the United States federal government were investigating him for evading millions of dollars in taxes.

A family member told New York police detectives that Hawthorne admitted the huge tax debt to some of his relatives, and was “acting funny” and “talking to himself” in the hours before his suicide Saturday, according to the New York Post.

The paper said that, 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, the Post said.

The New York Daily News also reported that the owner of the Golden Krust restaurant chain who committed suicide in his Bronx, New York factory was deep in tax debt and was being sued by a former staffer for “thousands in lost wages,” according to court records.

Hawthorne was “worried” about the liens, which included more than US$150,000 in city taxes on the company’s buildings, a police source told the Daily News.

He also owed at least US$15,000 in state taxes, records show, according to the Daily News.

Authorities said they discovered a note that Hawthorne left before he shot himself in the head Saturday afternoon. They did not disclose what he wrote, the paper said.

In addition to Hawthorne’s tax issues, a former maintenance staffer was suing him in Manhattan Federal Court, the Daily News said.

It said onetime employee Robert Wray said he was never paid for the overtime he worked during his 11-year tenure.

Wray’s May 8 lawsuit contends more than 100 other Golden Krust staffers were “similarly stiffed on OT [overtime],” according to the Daily News, adding that the case — which seeks class-action status – is pending.

But the paper said Hawthorne’s popular restaurant chain did not outwardly appear to be struggling.

In fact, it noted that Hawthorne had boasted about expanding the “McDonald’s of the Caribbean” during an episode of CBS’ “Undercover Boss” in May 2016.

“By 2020, all Americans we expect to be eating Golden Krust patties,” Hawthorne said then.

Hawthorne shot himself inside the firm’s Claremont factory at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, police sources told the Daily News.

It said some of his staffers said they suspected something was wrong when they saw his silver Tesla 85D parked oddly outside the factory, straddling two lanes.

Surveillance video shows the meat-pie mogul shooting himself in the head at his office inside the Golden Krust bakery and warehouse in the Bronx, the Post reported.

“Before the shooting, the video shows Hawthorne speaking with a pair of workers who left the room, both of whom were crouched down when they later returned to his office,” said the Post, basing its information on police sources.

“It was unclear if they saw Hawthorne kill himself, but one of them could be seen making a cellphone call, which a source said was to 911,” it added. “Hawthorne employed dozens of relatives at the business he started in 1989, and the source said he left a note in which he apologized to his family.”

Hawthorne’s younger brother, Milton Hawthorne, 55, met cops who arrived at the Golden Krust plant at 3958 Park Ave. in the Bronx around 5:15 p.m. Saturday in response to a 911 call about an “emotionally disturbed person armed with a gun,” the Post said.

Lowell Hawthorne, a married father of three sons and a daughter, was found on the floor of his office with a single bullet wound to his head and a handgun lying nearby, police sources told the Post.

Hawthorne started Golden Krust with a single fast-food eatery on East Gun Hill Road in the Bronx and opened 16 more across New York City before launching a franchise operation in 1996, the Post said.

It said the company now has more than 120 outlets in nine states, and sells its beef patties in more than 20,000 supermarkets, as well as to New York City school system, New York State penal system and US military, according to a news release issued last year.

“We are shocked and saddened by the death of Lowell Hawthorne,” tweeted New York City Mayor de Blasio. “Our prayers are with his family and his loved ones.”

Hawthorne’s death has also sent shock waves through the Caribbean community in New York, where he was seen as an immigrant success story, and in Jamaica, reported the New York Times.

“Our hearts are broken, and we are struggling to process our grief over this tremendous loss,” the Golden Krust company said in a statement on Sunday. “Lowell was a visionary, entrepreneur, community champion, and above all a committed father, family man, friend and man of faith.”

The Bronx company, where Hawthorne had worked with his wife and four children, offered thanks to supporters, and said funeral arrangements would be announced at a later date.

Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, wrote on Twitter that Hawthorne “was a good friend, and was always ready to help my office whenever we needed him. He will be sorely missed.”

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness, also offered condolences on Twitter.

More from Around NYC