Checkers chain plans 25 area restaurants


Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc., in a joint venture with an Atlanta-based entrepreneur, plans to open 25 drive-through restaurants in the next two years in Baltimore, creating at least 1,500 jobs.

Checkers restaurants feature a 1950s motif with two drive-in windows and carryout windows, but no indoor seating -- only outdoor tables.

"It's going to be a concept that is unlike any in Baltimore," said La-Van Hawkins, the president and chief executive officer of the franchisee that will be operating the 25 stores.

All of Mr. Hawkins' sites are in Baltimore City, with the exception of one on its outskirts.

"This is a very, very big boost for the city of Baltimore," said Elijah E. Cummings, an attorney for Mr. Hawkins and also a Baltimore City delegate to the General Assembly.

Eighteen of the 25 sites have been selected, Mr. Hawkins said. Each store will have 60 or more workers.

The 34-year-old entrepreneur, who operates 25 Checkers franchises in Atlanta and Philadelphia, said the initial investment in the Baltimore venture will be between $13 million and $15 million, with financing coming from Checkers and Mr. Hawkins' company.

Checkers, which has 443 stores nationwide, now has only three restaurants in Maryland: in Chevy Chase, Annapolis and Glen Burnie, according to Paul Campbell, vice president of finance for the Clearwater, Fla.-based chain.

The first Baltimore Checkers is scheduled to open March 3, at the Westside Shopping Mall at 2351 Frederick Ave. in West Baltimore. The menu at the restaurants is typical fast-food fare, such as hamburgers, chicken and fish.

Mr. Hawkins, who is black, also sees the expansion as helping Baltimore's black community. "I'm a black entrepreneur and I'm trying to build and develop black economic development in the black community," he said. He also said he will serve as a role model. "I left high school in the 10th grade, and today I'm a multimillionaire," he said.

He is also concentrating his efforts on the inner cities because of the saturation of fast-food restaurants in the suburbs. "Everybody is running to the suburban markets and leaving the inner-city market wide open," Mr. Hawkins said.

His restaurants will offer more opportunities to his workers than do other fast-food restaurants because he promotes quickly from within, he said.

A former regional manager with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mr. Hawkins became a franchisee of Checkers in 1991 and is now the seven-year-old chain's biggest revenue producer, with $55 million in annual sales, said Mr. Campbell, Checkers' vice president of finance. "He's the best," he said. "We're talking about a guy who came from virtually nothing."

Mr. Hawkins' Baltimore stores are part of larger expansion that will see about 100 new Checkers restaurants in Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore.

Checkers, which had a 1993 net income of $14.7 million on sales of $189.5 million, plans to have 1,000 restaurants by the end of 1996, Mr. Campbell said.

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