SPECIALTO THE CHRONICLE
Metro Detroiters will soon see a new restaurant, Detroit’s Cheesecake Bistro, open in Greektown. The restaurant aims to be an affordable high-end venue for metro Detroiters to dine with lunch menu items starting at $7.99.
The owner, La-Van Hawkins, is not a stranger to Detroit. He has operated several million dollar chains including Pizza Hut, Burger King and Checker’s fast food restaurants. Additionally, he operated Sweet Georgia Brown with several partners, although it later closed. Detroit’s Cheesecake Bistro, will open on the former Sweet Georgia Brown site.
Hawkins, who has had his share of ups and downs, is committed to making a lasting contribution to Detroit with the restaurant’s opening.
Set with a blue, brown and cream décor, Detroit’s Cheesecake Bistro will offer an array of menu choices.
“I left Detroit in 2004 and to be able to come back in 2012 is phenomenal,” Hawkins said. “I was out of the market for eight years and I was able to travel and spend time in others cities. This restaurant will allow me to include different pieces of other cities and some of Detroit’s own scenery.”
He added that Detroit’s Cheesecake Bistro will offer stellar service, welcoming ambience and quality, affordable food.
“I saw a need for an affordable upscale restaurant,” he added. “I used the prices of $7.99 to $9.99 for lunch to get the working people to be able to afford it. First, people will be blown away by the ambience when they come in, then they will experience great customer service and their minds will be blown away again by the affordable menu prices.”
Challenges are not new to Hawkins who grew up in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing Project; He was surrounded by crime, got involved in gangs and started using drugs. But later he set his feet on a different path and operated several successful businesses. He stumbled in 2005, and was convicted of several charges in connection with the Philadelphia city government. He also faced federal charges and served time for a failure to pay federal taxes in Detroit.
The unstoppable Hawkins, did not emerge from the experience unscathed.
“What I went through humbled me,” he 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 spending 18 months in a federal prison.”
As a teenager, Hawkins’ father died and he dropped out of high school to take 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 operated several companies in the restaurant industry, including 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 Sweet Georgia Brown.
Under the Global Hospitality Group, Hawkins and several other partners are planning to launch a series of additional eateries, all in Detroit, with a goal of 10 restaurants opening within one year. Among them are Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse.
Before grand opening of his new restaurant, Hawkins said he will feed at least 5,000 as a way to thank metro Detroiters for their support. Plans are to offer meals to city workers, public officials, teachers, students and homeless people.
Making an investment in the city is what Hawkins would like to be known for.
“When it’s all over, I hope people will say he made a difference,” said Hawkins. “I want to touch people’s lives and leave a legacy. I want people to say he was a guy who cared about the people. I intend to build a legacy behind my name that my children will be proud of years down the line.”