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Former Detroit restaurateur La-Van Hawkins died Saturday at age 61, according to a death notice from a Detroit funeral home.

Hawkins, a Chicago native, was known locally as the owner of Sweet Georgia Brown, an upscale soul food restaurant in Greektown. He also owned nearly 90 Pizza Hut locations at one time, as well as some Burger King franchises.

His Hawkins Food Group, LLC was based in Detroit and at one time in the 2000s was ranked as one of the largest African American-owned businesses in the United States. 

According to Detroit News archives, Hawkins was not the run-of-the-mill business owner. He spent his early years in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project and did time in street gangs before turning his life around, starting as a janitor at a McDonalds and working his way up to be a fast-food restaurant owner. 

In Detroit in 2009 Hawkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months in prison for failing to turn over $5.3 million in payroll taxes from his Pizza Huts to the IRS. At that time he was already sitting in a South Dakota prison because of a city corruption conviction from a case in Philadelphia.

The restaurant mogul's funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Monday at Great Faith Ministry International Church, 10735 Grand River in Detroit, according to James H. Cole funeral home. A visitation will be held at the funeral home, 2624 W. Grand River, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Sunday. 

He will be buried at Oakview Cemetery in Royal Oak. 

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

 

 

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