By Zoe Fanzo
“He was the quintessential Lehman student -- determined and dedicated to his family and community,” President José Luis Cruz said in a statement mourning the loss of Lowell Hawthorne, founder and CEO of Golden Krust Bakery & Grill, and a 2016 Lehman graduate. He also called Hawthorne “an icon of the Bronx, the borough in which he launched his extraordinarily successful company.”
Hawthorne, 57, committed suicide on Dec. 2 inside his Golden Krust Bakery and warehouse in the Bronx. The New York Post reported that Hawthorne had evaded millions of dollars in taxes and feared the implications of a federal investigation. According to a family member, in the hours before his suicide Hawthorne was exhibiting strange behavior and “talking to himself.”
Born in Jamaica, Hawthorne came to the Bronx in 1981 and studied at Bronx Community College, later working as an accountant with the New York Police Department. In 1989, he opened the first Golden Krust Bakery on Gun Hill Road, using money that his family pooled together after he was refused a bank loan. When he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration, he served as a student speaker at the commencement ceremony. Today, his fast-food empire has more than 120 locations in the U.S., selling its beef patties to more than 20,000 supermarkets, various school systems, the penal system, and the U.S. military.
The death of Hawthorne and the tragic ending to his Bronx success story has the Lehman community reeling.
“I always react when I hear about suicide, especially because of the lack of access to help. Mental illness is so important to talk about and represent, but there are so many cultural and racial stigmas that it should be repressed or remain unspoken,” said Lehman senior Mena McCarthy, an English literature major, and chemistry and biology double minor, in reaction to Hawthorne’s suicide.
Al Alston, a friend of Hawthorne and owner of a Golden Krust Bakery in Queens stated that his death was “more than unexpected -- it's out of character,” according to the New York Post. Alston described Hawthorne as “an upbeat guy,” and called his passing a “tragic loss.”
The Golden Krust company released a statement the day following his death, affirming, “Our hearts are broken, and we are struggling to process our grief over this tremendous loss. Lowell was a visionary, entrepreneur, community champion, and above all a committed father, family man, friend and man of faith.”