Don't Hate the Player

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Nov 19, 2007 6:50PM

2007_11_als.gifToday's Sun-Times has an interesting article on restaurateur and Chicago native LaVan Hawkins, who's opening Nancy's Pizza and Al's Italian Beef franchises even as he's set to go to prison on corruption charges.

The biography of Hawkins is a true rags-to-riches, rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story starting with his early years running in a gang and battling drug addiction, then from working his way up from the lowest rung at a McDonald's to commanding a fast-food franchise empire that spanned the Midwest and East Coast. His conviction stemmed from a Federal investigation into Hawkins' business dealings in Philadelphia. He was accused of bribing that city's treasurer in exchange for supporting Hawkins' business interests and lying to a federal grand jury investigating the case. If Hawkins were found guilty of the more serious offenses, he'd be looking at 125 years behind bars. Instead, he's serving 33 months and paying a $25,000 fine, which is pocket change for a man whose restaurant holdings earned an estimated $200 million at their peak and earned a $30 million settlement with Burger King.

In keeping with his business model, Hawkins and his partners are investing in opening up the Nancy's and Al's franchises in underserved minority-populated neighborhoods. Hawkins has a good track record of providing for his employees, often increasing the wage of his workers from $2-3 dollars an hour after 90 days of employment. Hawkins' business partners told the Sun-Times that they were reluctant to do business with him due to the conviction, but was swayed by the professionalism of the people actually running the franchises. Still, some former associates of Hawkins from Detroit warn that a leopard can't change his spots, and fear that Hawkins will eventually burn his partners in Chicago.