by Sally Mitani
"We wanted a bigger space. Most stores we have are bigger, about 10,000 square feet," says Jayesh Patel. But Patel Brothers, the fifty-five store chain started in 1974 by Mafat Patel in Chicago, couldn't find a store that size that they liked in Ann Arbor, so the company made do with a 3,500-square-foot slot in Pittsfield Plaza. It's only about a mile from Bombay Grocery on Packard, but, Jayesh says, "everybody can survive, if you do it the right way."
On opening day in September, the store was doing land-office business. A turbaned Sikh out front was heaving multiple fifty-pound sacks of rice and lentils into his station wagon. Inside, fresh produce, ayurvedic medicine, rice, beans, chutneys, pickles, and spices were flying off the shelves.
In the back room, the entire Patel family seemed to be gathered for an inaugural party, the men clustered around chatting while a beautiful woman, her scarf fluttering, dashed through the room. Jayesh confirmed that there's a family reunion whenever a new store opens--in fact, Mafat had just departed.
Jayesh, who owns the Garden City store, is Mafat's nephew, and Bhavesh, who owns this store (and whose hosting and ownership duties kept him on the run), is Jayesh's nephew. "Whenever we open a new store, a family member runs it," says Jayesh. "We're a big family."
If it seems that you've read before about Patels opening grocery stores in Ann Arbor, you have. Vipin and Surekha Patel opened Om Market in 2010, and Mukesh and Bharti Patel moved and expanded Bombay Grocery the same year (they've owned it since 1999). "Sixty percent of Gujaratis are named Patel," says Jayesh. Last month, Swetang Patel, at Curry Up, contributed another Patel statistic, claiming that if you meet a Patel, there's "an 85 percent chance they're from [the Indian state of] Gujarat." And though neither the Om Market nor the Bombay Grocery Patels are relatives, Mukesh and Bharti at Bombay got their start working for the Patel Brothers in Garden City.
Patel Brothers, 3426 Washtenaw (Pittsfield Plaza), 971-1203. Daily 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (possibly will be closed either Mon. or Tues.). patelbros.com
[Originally published in November, 2012.]
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