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President & Chief Executive Officer Global Hospitality
ROAD TO RECOVERY
By Melody Moore
Growing up in Chicago's Cabrini-Green Housing Project, LaVan Hawkins was surrounded by crime, got involved in gangs and started using drugs. But he straightened up. Hawkins has operated several companies in the restaurant industry - Urban City Foods and the Hawkins Food Group, which operated several fast food chains including Pizza Hut, Checkers (formerly known as Rally's), Burger King and the upscale establishment, Sweet Georgia Brown.
Among his portfolio, Hawkins owned fast food chains in several states across the country, generating more than $100 million annually. However, Hawkins sold his 28 Burger King locations after a court settlement. After many challenges and setbacks, Hawkins has rebounded and opened a new restaurant in downtown Detroit's Greektown, "Detroit's Cheesecake Bistro." Established as an upscale, affordable dining location, Hawkins and his partner are aiming to corner a market of eateries. Opening in the same venue as the former restaurant, Sweet Georgia Brown, the menu includes lunch items ranging from $7.99 and higher.
As a teenager, Hawkins' father died and he dropped out of high school to care for his mother. Soon, he would be introduced to the restaurant and hospitality industry – where he would spend more than 30 years of his career. Starting as a janitor in a downtown Chicago McDonald's, he later became the owner and operator of a more than $200-million business. Hawkins has faced a number of barriers in the process. In 2005 he was faced with several charges in connection with the Philadelphia City government.
Despite his life's roadblocks, Hawkins said he is determined to rise. "What I went through humbled me," Hawkins said. "It polished me, groomed me and humbled me. You can be so successful that you think you belong to the untouchables club and I ended up spending 18 months in a federal prison."
Under the Global Hospitality Group, Hawkins is revamping his restaurant prowess. After the opening of Detroit's Cheesecake Bistro, Hawkins said plans are to open at least ten more restaurants within one year. Hawkins said his business acumen is attributed to the lessons he has learned in life. "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate," he said. "It was a great lesson, it took time to prune me and now I am coming out more excited and more committed than before."
Plans are to leave a legacy and impact on Detroit. Before the opening of his new restaurant, Hawkins plans to donate and serve nearly 5,000 people – including city workers, public officials, teachers, students and homeless people. This initiative, he said, is a way to make an investment and thank Metro Detroiters for their continued support.
"Your business is only successful when you have support from people," Hawkins said. "I want to leave a lasting impact on Detroit, that I contributed to the economy through jobs and by helping others."
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