The man who brought spicy Jamaican patties to American restaurant diners dies in New York

Lowell Hawthorne, president of Golden Krust, talks to prospective franchise holders during a 2004 visit to South Florida.
Lowell Hawthorne, president of Golden Krust, talks to prospective franchise holders during a 2004 visit to South Florida. Miami Herald File

Lowell Hawthorne, who used his father’s and mother’s recipes and his brothers’ and sisters’ second mortgages to fund a Jamaican restaurant in New York that grew into the largest Caribbean-food chain in America, died Saturday.

Hawthorne, the president and CEO of Golden Krust, shot himself to death inside a company factory in the Bronx in New York City, police said. He was 57.

“I want to be the next McDonald’s,” Hawthorne told the Miami Herald in 2004 during a visit to South Florida to stir up interest in Golden Krust franchises. “When we started the company, I couldn’t have imagined that. But I think that can happen in the next 10 years.”

Hawthorne didn’t quite achieve that. But he didn’t do badly, building his restaurant into a chain of 120 restaurants across nine states, including 16 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

“Look how far he reached,” Hawthorne’s friend Wayne Muschamb told New York reporters on Saturday. Muschamb said Hawthorne was an inspiration to his countrymen in Jamaica. “He’s known from here to Jamaica...I’m kind of lost for words, man. This has got me shocked.”

Golden Krust serves a variety of Caribbean foods, from braised oxtail to curried goat. But the menu’s backbone has always been the Jamaican patty, a flaky pastry dough filled with spicy ground beef or jerk chicken.

Hawthorne made the patties from the same recipe his parents used for more than 60 years at their family bakery in St. Andrew, Jamaica. The recipe wasn’t the only thing he borrowed. The first Golden Krust, located across from a Bronx subway stop, was funded with money his siblings raised by taking out second mortgages on their homes.

As Golden Krust expanded, Hawthorne’s fame did, too. He wrote an autobiography called “The Baker’s Son,’’ chronicling his life in the Caribbean and his success in New York. He even appeared on the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss,” in which owners go to work in disguise at their own companies in order to see what life is like for their employees.

Many of those employees gathered Saturday outside the building where Hawthorne shot himself, mourning a man they said was a good boss long before he went on television.

“He was a nice boss, a wonderful guy,” Everald Woods, who joined Golden Krust in 2003, told the New York Daily News. “He’s the kind of guy you want to work for for that long. He takes care of his employees.”

None of the family members, friends or employees who spoke about Hawthorne over the weekend could offer any explanation for why he might have killed himself. But a post on Hawthorne’s Facebook page, now deleted, suggested he had been thinking about it for several days.

That Nov. 28 post, written in an ominous past tense, reflected on his life. “I was always in search of the next honest means to make a dollar,” Hawthorne 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.”