57-year-old Lowell Hawthorne, the CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, killed himself inside his Bronx factory Saturday.
More than a dozen current and former employees stood in disbelief outside the factory hours later. Some had tears rolling down their cheeks.
“He was a good boss, humble and a good businessman,” said Pete Tee, 27, a former employee.
“He never seemed sad. This is just terrible news right now.”
Hawthorne opened the first Golden Krust store on E. Gun Hill Rd. in 1989.
He went on to build the Jamaica beef patty purveyor into a national empire boasting more than 120 restaurants in nine states.
Pat Russo, who has worked with Hawthorne since the 1990s, was confounded 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.
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.
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 countrymen in Jamaica. “Look how far he reached. He’s known from here to Jamaica,” Muschamb said. “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 U.S. from Jamaica in search of opportunity.
He briefly worked as an accountant for the NYPD before deciding to build a business inspired by his father’s bakery back home.
Golden Krust became the first Caribbean-owned business in the U.S. to be granted a franchise license, according to its website.
In 2012, he published “The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business,” a memoir.
“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.
As of now, it’s unclear why he decided to take his life. RIP.