While his North Philly friends fantasized about being Dr. J or at least Maurice Cheeks, 13-year-old Gregory Thorne dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur.
By the time he finished Benjamin Franklin High, he was a partner in a produce stand at 18th and Susquehanna with Jewell Williams, who would become a state representative and then sheriff. (Williams currently faces civil allegations of sexual harassment.)
Unbeknownst to Williams, the entrepreneurial Thorne had a side business selling pot and coke near where he lived at 17th and Diamond.
He had four brothers and three sisters. The family “didn’t have a whole lot, things were tough, you get tired of seeing people suffer,” Thorne says, more explanation than apology. His father was a low-paid custodian.
“You feel you have to do something to change the situation,” Thorne says, sitting in his office in a low-slung Bala Cynwyd building. “Mom was a Christian woman who said God was going to take care of us. I said no, someone else has to.”
He did, and paid the price — a state-paid, eight-year vacation behind bars.
I ask Thorne, 52, if he was a successful drug dealer. He chuckles ruefully, not pridefully, and says he was able to finance college tuition for his siblings and keep the pantry stocked. “It kind of glorified me,” he says.
That was then. Now he’s straight as an Ohio turnpike, with a heavy Rolex watch circling his left wrist and $1,000 Louis Vuitton loafers on his feet — all earned honestly. He lives in a big house in Media with his four daughters and his wife, Janise, who is an accountant and his business partner.
He built himself up step by step and now wants to share what he has learned.
The first step after getting out of jail was getting a job, and his first partner, Williams, eased him into the Susquehanna Neighborhood Advisory Council, where he settled neighborhood disputes and learned to write grants.
His entrepreneurial spirit led him to open a beauty salon, then another, and then another, until he had five. He made some money, them moved on. In 2016 he opened Catch 22 Seafood & Grill in Swampoodle but closed it a few weeks ago because of neighborhood crime, he says. Not every venture pans out for entrepreneurs.
He got into real estate investing, which led to his book The Winning Hand: A Beginners Guide for Success in Real Estate Investing. His company, G&J Financial Service, specializes in helping people in “urban communities” who want their own homes but have no knowledge of how to navigate the system.
His work has been praised by State Sen. Sharif Street, who tells me Thorne’s efforts prove “that hard work, determination, faith, and resolve to improve one’s situation is possible.”
Thorne used his own bootstraps, and a little help from his friends, to pull himself up and away from his dark past. What would give him pleasure now is to encourage kids with a bent for business to be like him and become entrepreneurs — minus the part about selling drugs, of course.