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Shuttered

Burger King seeks operator for its inner-city restaurants

(Published April 22, 2002)

By ERIKA WAAK

Staff Writer

Burger King restaurant’s flaming broilers are out cold in two D.C. neighborhoods due to a lengthy legal dispute between Burger King Corp. and the former franchisee, La-Van Hawkins.

The two locations that suddenly closed and were boarded up in early April are located in the Skyland Shopping Center at 2626 Naylor Road SE and near Howard University at 2730 Georgia Avenue NW.

The Miami-based fast-food chain currently is working with the property owners and a local franchisee in an attempt to re-open these restaurants soon, said Laina Hanna, the corporation’s communications manager.

Burger King Corp. has operated three Burger King restaurants in the D.C. area that were formerly operated by Hawkins since December 2000, when a federal judge dismissed Hawkins’ longstanding claims of fraud, racial discrimination and breach of contract against the chain. Burger King had counter-sued Hawkins for unpaid debts and royalties it said Hawkins owed the company.

Burger King attorney Tony Moraleajo said the fast-food chain operated the two D.C. restaurants and a third one on Indian Head Highway in suburban Oxon Hill, Md., under a "temporary pre-occupancy agreement," which renewed on a weekly basis but was terminated on April 5.

"It’s too early to tell when the Burger King restaurants will reopen," Moraleajo said. "Burger King Corp. can no longer operate these restaurants, and La-Van Hawkins is no longer in our system."

Hawkins could not be reached for comment.

In 1998 Hawkins, chairman of Baltimore-based La-Van Hawkins Urban City Foods, announced plans to open a total of 25 Burger King restaurants in the District’s Northeast and Southeast quadrants and in Prince George’s County, Md. Hawkins, who is known nationally as one of the most successful black entrepreneurs in fast-food circles, touted a strategy of serving the under-served inner city of several major urban areas and providing training and jobs to unemployed minority youth.

However, Hawkins has encountered a string of lawsuits in recent years from vendors, contractors and others relating to his businesses. And in addition to Hawkins’ legal dispute with Burger King, his Washington-area restaurants may also have outstanding regulatory issues with the D.C. government.

"We didn’t have a restaurant license issued to the 2626 Naylor Road address," said Gina Douglas, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. "We found a cigarette license and some other kind of license, but no restaurant license."

While the closing of the Naylor Road Burger King on April 5 and the Georgia Avenue one on April 11 meant at least the temporary loss of jobs for those restaurants’ workers, at least one local official said she doesn’t consider the closing of Ward 7’s Burger King to be a big loss for her neighborhood.

"One less fast food restaurant doesn’t break my heart, and I haven’t heard from anyone else who’s upset about losing it," said Kathy Chamberlain, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who represents the area that includes Skyland Shopping Center.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator