Restaurateur shares success story

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Martha Hawkins has had a hard life. Born in Montgomery, she was married and pregnant at 16, lived on welfare in a housing project and was suffering from chronic clinical depression.

To look at her today, it is hard to believe that it’s the same woman.

Martha Hawkins is the owner of the nationally reknown &uot;Martha’s Place&uot; restaurant on Sayre Street in Montgomery. Hawkins’ patrons have included such luminaries as Walther Mathau, Sissy Spacek, Evander Holyfield, Nell Carter, Ted Koppel and several Alabama governors and Montgomery mayors.

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In a presentation for a Black History Month observance at Greenville High School, Hawkins shared her &uot;rags to riches&uot; story with the high school students.

&uot;I started my business because I needed a job,&uot; Hawkins said. &uot;I loved to cook – had a passion for cooking. I felt that was the dream and vision that God had given me – to own my own restaurant.&uot;

Hawkins said the road to business ownership was a rocky one. She was the mother of four sons and had suicidal tendencies.

&uot;My situation was the reverse of what usually happens in parent – child relationships,&uot; she said. &uot;My children had to watch me go in and out of the hospital because of my depression and repeated attempts at suicide. Still, they succeeded in school and got scholarships to college.&uot;

Hawkins said her children wouldn’t come to her if they needed anything, because they didn’t want to put additional pressure on her.

&uot;They didn’t let what happened to me keep them from getting their dreams,&uot; she said. &uot;My oldest son is an FBI agent and lives in Washington, D.C., another son manages my restaurant, my third son has his own clothing store and is the top corporate salesperson in the state for AllTel, and my last son is a manager for Northwest Airlines.&uot;

Hawkins said that her motivation to better her situation was inspired by her sons’ achievements.

&uot;My sons made it in spite of me,&uot; she said. &uot;They made it in spite of how I was living. They motivated and encouraged me. I was so proud of them and what they had accomplished that I had to do something to make them proud of me.&uot;

And make them proud, she did.

Hawkins was fortunate to meet Calvin Pryor, who had a building that he was willing to let her use for her restaurant.

&uot;He told me I could use the building once it came available,&uot; Hawkins said. &uot;Two years later, it did. Through the help of the Black Women’s Economic Development Group, who gave me a grant of $2,500 and helped me secure a loan of another $2,500, I was able to buy equipment and supplies for my restaurant.&uot;

Hawkins renovated the building herself and shopped yard sales for plates, cups and pots and pans.

Now, 15 years later, Martha’s Place is a bonified success story, and Hawkins is moving on to bigger and better things.

In addition to running her restaurant, Hawkins is set to start production on her &uot;Martha’s Blessings&uot; frozen food line.

&uot;We are finalizing the plans now and are looking to buy a building in Andalusia, Ala., to produce the frozen food line,&uot; Hawkins said. &uot;They will be available in Bruno’s, Calhoun Foods and Albertson’s grocery stores in the next couple of months.&uot;

Hawkins attributes her success to her determination to rise above her situation.

&uot;My message to the school children is that it’s awesome to see what hard work, faith and trust in God, and sheer determination can do,&uot; she said. &uot;The sky is the limit. I want to make them realize that potential lies in each one of them no matter what their situation is. If anyone had told me when I was 16 about the road I was about to go down, I wouldn’t have believed them. I didn’t have any money. But I had a vision and a dream, and I held on to it for dear life.&uot;