The Patel Brothers: An Indian-American Success Story
From one young immigrant’s hunger for home came a grocery business empire.
Although there are now thousands of Indian restaurants in the US, and many ways to get Indian flavors at local grocery stores, that wasn't always the case. And if you've ever had chicken vindaloo or a crispy desi samosa, you know nothing else will do when the hankering strikes.
Here's the story of an immigrant family who turned hard work and a love for good Indian food into a $140 million dollar business.
Mafat Patel Put His Money Where His Mouth Was
When Mafat Patel, an Indian immigrant living in Chicago, found himself longing for his native cuisine, he noticed authentic ingredients were hard to find. Not only that, but when he realized other young transplants had the same problem, a business idea was born.
In 1974, Patel decided to put his recently acquired MBA to work by opening his own Indian grocery store. A small, ramshackle place on Devon Avenue housed the novice grocer’s first offerings: spices from home, rice flour, and all the things Mafat could imagine his compatriots needing to create delectable native dishes in their American homes-away-from-home. Today, the grocery chain serves thousands of customers every day, from every corner of the world.
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Patel Brothers Remains a True Family Business
Although the original idea for the store was Mafat’s, getting it off the ground was no one-man show. The eldest of six children in a traditional family from Gujarat, India, Mafat naturally turned toward home for help. He convinced his brother, Tulsi, and Tulsi’s wife, Aruna, to move to the US to help run the business.
Three years later, Patel Brothers was born. As one location became many, the family business grew, along with the families of the two brothers. Patel children grew up playing in the aisles, bagging groceries, and stocking shelves.
Today, the chain is still owned by the family, with various family members operating the many trademarks, stores, and products under the Patel Brothers brand umbrella.
And that’s partly due to the brothers’ natural generosity and loyalty. According to The Times of India, the Patels were known to lend a hand to relatives wanting to join the family business: “the brothers, who have over 250 family members in the US today, were welcome hosts to any relative who wished to set up a store under their banner.”
However, all that success doesn’t seem to have spoiled the family’s commitment to service and quality. In fact, family pride inspires excellence. Take the Jackson Heights, New York, store, for example, run by Mufat’s nephew, Harshad Patel. Among a variety of ethnic grocers in the area, Patel Brothers stands out, he says, because of his relentless focus on “improving the business” by providing the “best quality and the best customer service.”
Variety Is The Spice of Life — and Business
Not content with merely being grocers, the Patel brothers eventually branched out into manufacturing and distributing prepackaged ethnic foods of all kinds. Raja Foods, a subsidiary of the Patel Brothers brand, was the brainchild of Rakesh, one of Mufat’s sons. Inspired by his senior thesis, Rakesh Patel created Raja Foods to meet the growing demand for heat-and-eat frozen foods. SWAD, an original brand now under the Raja Foods umbrella, is now the largest-selling Indian food brand in the US.
The Patel Brothers brand hasn’t stopped at food products, either. Patel Brothers now offers a variety of products and services, ranging from Indian wedding clothing to handicrafts and religious memorabilia. There’s even Air Tours, Inc., a travel agency offering a range of travel services from ticketing to package tours to cruise vacations all over the world.
Patel Brothers Sweeps the US
From one 800-square-foot location on Devon Avenue in Chicago, Patel Brothers stores now number over 55. Once Patel Brothers peppered the east coast with multiple locations, they expanded to the west coast and even Texas and Arizona.
The family may run the largest Indian grocery chain in North America, but the memory of their humble beginnings seems to continue driving the quest for quality and service. According to Aruna Patel, wife of co-founder Tulsi, “We’ll never forget that there were days when the cash register never opened.” This attitude of gratitude has multiplied right along with Patel Brothers locations.
Take a look at the map of Patel Brothers locations to see how the company has grown through the years:
Secrets of Success From Mafat Patel
Traditional values have always been integral to the Patel Brothers’ story. Evidence of the Patels’ commitment to excellence, hard work, integrity, and family run through all aspects of the business. Here are a few key highlights from the Patel story.
High thinking: Mafat Patel’s lofty goals began with a decision to head to the U.S. from Gujarat, India to earn an advanced education in engineering. But while he worked as an engineer in Chicago, he didn’t stop setting goals and chasing opportunities. Following his instincts helped Mafat and his brother to create and grow a successful business.
“I always believed [in] simple living and high thinking in life.” — Mafat Patel
Hard work and honesty: No one would dispute the fact that owning a small business takes a special kind of dedication. The challenges of keeping fresh foods in stock, pricing items properly, and simply keeping the doors open required 24-hour vigilance. But the Patels remained committed to honesty and hard work.
“Challenges are part of life, but in the long run, hard work and honesty always pay off.” — Mafat Patel
Family: It’s also clear that the Patel Brothers have valued family since the time Mufat Patel enlisted the help of his brother, Tulsi to get the business off the ground. Three generations of Patels now help run the different arms of the business, from the online shopping processes, to private label production, to physical location operation. Mafat Patel claims he’s in the background now, and is clearly proud of the younger generation: “Now I am just helping them. They are doing a great job.”
“I'm happy, my whole family is happy, so I don't have any regrets.” — Mafat Patel
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With 15+ years of experience writing for finance and tech, Laura specialises in simplifying complex topics for all audiences. Her work has appeared on Ally Bank, Inman, and Hyper Networks.
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