• Wolverine Pizza Huts reopen, Hawkins takes aim at upscale dining

DETROIT -- Wolverine Foods, owner of 118 Pizza Huts, was allowed to reopen eight Detroit-area stores that were closed by the Michigan Attorney General on March 21 for non-payment of taxes.

La-Van Hawkins, CEO and president of Wolverine, told Detroit TV station WDIV that the closures resulted from a miscommunication with the state, and that the matter would be resolved quickly.

On March 23, a judge allowed the restaurants to be reopened temporarily, pending payment of the taxes.

Attempts by PizzaMarketplace to talk to Hawkins went unanswered.

According to the Detroit News, Hawkins announced that he plans to spend nearly $20 million to open six fine-dining restaurants in Detroit by 2006.

To operate the high-end ventures, Hawkins formed Lineage Group Two. The goal, he said, is to bring more premium dining options to downtown Detroit.

"People ... want something new," he said. "In any other city, you'll see (an abundance) of fine-food restaurants and we want to bring them here."

Downtown Detroit has claimed at least two restaurant scene victims in recent years; a jazz supper and comedy club and Bennigan's restaurant failed in 1997 and 2000 respectively. Hawkins' own upscale restaurant, Sweet Georgia Brown, however, has succeeded since opening in the same neighborhood in 1997.

"We have such a strong parent company in Wolverine Pizza and La-Van Hawkins International, and failure is not in our repertoire," Hawkins told the News. "We've had many successes in the fast-food business. We understand this business, and we see ourselves being able to generate a new company that will do $300 million to $600 million in revenue" annually.

Hawkins' companies have more than 9,000 employees and reported sales of more than $200 million last year. Along with Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, Hawkins owns a share of five BET Soundstage clubs and 20 Hilton Hotels.

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