Patels are living the American Dream one shop at a time

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By Brad Bowman

As a child Mike Patel heard that everyone in America was rich.

At 19, he would take a chance on the American dream and leave engineering school.

“My aunt had applied for us to get visas in the 80s,” Patel said. “It took 15 years for us to get an opening to come. My dad came to me while I was in college in Nagpur and asked me if I wanted to go. It was a hard decision.”

Patel took a chance on the American dream. Where he grew up in Gujarat, India, Patel heard stories how one could easily get rich in America and everyone had more than they could want. Patel didn’t want to give up engineering and hoped he could finish his degree in the States.

“It was very exciting. We came to Florida to my aunt’s hotel and lived in Orlando,” Patel said. “I found out that two classes cost almost as much as a whole year of school at the university in India.”

Patel moved with his mother, brother and father to Findlay, Ohio. He worked in a factory first making cookies, followed by an opportunity to work with his brother at another factory where they made auto parts.

“It was a hard job,” Patel said. “I would hold this heavy machinery for eight hours a day molding these parts. I had ambition and knew that I just needed to work hard and prove myself.”

Patel worked two jobs and started going to Owens Community College. He found a job at a computer company. It wasn’t the job he wanted, but thought he could at least get in the door.

“I wanted to do something different in the prototype department. I was studying programming,” Patel said. “I took a job in data entry and it was so boring. They had an opening for a manager and I did a second or third interview but didn’t get it. I was disappointed. I finally got a job in quality control. It was during this time I started to learn about the culture and how people enjoyed their life here. I listened and learned. I took the principles I learned from one job and took them to another. I made friends I am still in touch with today.”

Patel continued living with his family. Like the quintessential American story, the Patel family sold everything they owned as tobacco farmers in India for a chance at a better life. He and his brother never lost sight of that dream.

 “My brother and I wanted to have our own business,” Patel said. “We looked into the concept and liked the idea. We started looking into a Subway business to buy. We looked at different operations for over a year from Denver, Colorado to South Carolina. We wanted to find one already in operation so we knew it worked and didn’t have to take too much risk. We saved our money and found a store in Lexington.”

Patel’s brother moved to Lexington and he stayed in Ohio working at the factory and would come to Kentucky working with his brother on the weekends. Patel said everything was one step at a time. He kept telling himself there would always be difficulties even if money didn’t come right away.

“My father got laid off and went to work with my brother,” Patel said. “We started looking for a second business after the first one started to pay off. We looked at the one in Eminence. We came to the town and liked it. I have lived in bigger cities but people in this community knew and cared for each other.”

Patel said the Subway has been organized and continues running well. He bought Deli Plus in August. He liked that there wouldn’t be any franchise constraints and his family could do what they wanted with it.

“I took my factory experience and what I learned from the Japanese and streamlined everything,” Patel said. “We knew we might lose some money in the beginning but we wanted to take a chance. There is a project in every corner. I take care of  the building and maintenance. My wife works harder than I do now. She takes control of the kitchen. We invested in a pizza oven and the lunch menu is great. I always think from the customer’s perspective and what would they want.”

Patel said he likes being his own Subway’s competition and has leased the former Shell gas station on Main Street. Patel hopes to open the station at the end of February with a drive through and larger capacity to serve the public. Despite his success, Patel said his true reward is coming home.

“We have a 9-month-old baby and it’s awesome to come home and see her everyday,” Patel said. “We make time for family and she is my reward and makes it worth it.”

Patel said he sees Eminence as a small town still full of life. He continues to listen and learn.

“You are never too old to learn,” Patel said. “There is a very big part of the older generation here and they give me a lot. They are wise. They have seen a lot and have known this town for a long time. They talk and share their insights. In this town, people are connected to each other and care.”