The founder and chief executive officer of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, Jamaican Lowell Hawthorne, killed himself inside his Bronx factory Saturday, reports say.
Police sources told the New York Daily News on Saturday that Hawthorne, 57, shot himself inside the Park Ave. building, near E. 173rd St., in Claremont section of the Bronx, at about 5:30 p.m.
More than a dozen current and former employees stood in disbelief outside the factory hours later, the Daily News said.
Some had tears rolling down their cheeks, the paper said.
“He was a good boss, humble and a good businessman,” Pete Tee, 27, a former employee, told the Daily News. “He never seemed sad. This is just terrible news right now.”
Hawthorne opened the first Golden Krust store on E. Gun Hill Rd. in the Bronx in 1989, going on to build the Jamaica beef patty purveyor into a US national empire by boasting more than 120 restaurants in nine states, the Daily News said.
Pat Russo, who has worked with Hawthorne since the 1990s, was shocked by the news that his fellow businessman had taken his own life.
“It doesn’t make any sense. He had everything to live for,” said Russo, who is the president of Chef’s Choice food company. “He was a brilliant business guy. The perfect American success story.”
Hawthorne’s death sent shockwaves from the streets of the Bronx to government offices in Jamaica, where Prime Minister Andrew Holness fired off a tweet offering his condolences, the Daily News said.
Some of Hawthorne’s employees said they suspected something was amiss when they spotted his car, a silver Tesla 85D, parked oddly outside the factory. The luxury ride was left in the road blocking a lane of traffic, according to the Daily News.
Longtime employee Everald Woods said he loved working under Hawthorne.
“He was a nice boss, a wonderful guy,” said Woods, an employee since 2003. “He’s the kind of guy you want to work for – for that long. He takes care of his employees.”
Family friend Wayne Muschamb said Hawthorne was an inspiration to his compatriot in Jamaica.
“Look how far he reached. He’s known from here to Jamaica,” Muschamb told the Daily News. “I’m kind of lost for words, man. This has got me shocked.”
Hawthorne’s rags-to-riches story was set in motion in 1981 when he followed several relatives to the US from Jamaica in search of opportunity, the Daily News said.
It said he briefly worked as an accountant for the New York Police Department (NYPD) before deciding to build a business inspired by his father’s bakery back in Jamaica.
Golden Krust became the first Caribbean-owned business in the US to be granted a franchise license, according to its website.
In 2012, Hawthorne published “The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business,” a memoir, the Daily News reported.
“It’s a very humbling experience to know that the concept that began in Jamaica with our parents was able to come here,” Hawthorne told the Daily News at the time.
Hawthorne told the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that his goal was that, “by 2020, all Americans will have heard of Jamaican patties,” according to the New York Post.
He told the newspaper that it’s a family operation with Hawthorne’s wife, three sons and daughter, not to mention cousins. nieces and nephews, all involved.
Saddened employees gathered outside the Golden Krust factory, at 3958 Park Ave. Saturday night to pay their respect, the Post said.
“He’s a nice man, a good man,’’ said John Harrison, who had been working there for three years. “The Jamaican people, they feel it. All of us are Jamaican. We lost a Jamaican, we feel it.’’
Hanaku Oxori, who had worked at the plant for 17 years, said, “he’s nice with everyone here.”
The suicide “was a surprise to me,” he added. “We saw him every day. He talks to everyone. He was always in a good mood.”
Hawthorne, on Nov. 28, made a post on the social medium, Facebook, reflecting on his life, the Post noted.
“I was always in search of the next honest means to make a dollar,” he wrote. “Like many transplanted Caribbean nationals, I struggled to work and raise a family. I can only thank God for everything I have achieved.”
“If my story here can inspire others to rise up and give it a go, I would have accomplished something meaningful,” he added.