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From Surat to San Francisco: How The Patels Cornered The Hotel Business

If ever there was a historical narrative promoting America as the land of opportunity that needed to be rescued from marginalization, Surat to San Francisco: How the Patels from Gujarat Established the Hotel Business in California, 1942–1960 is that story.

Author Mahendra K. Doshi, former journalist and historian, shares the untold account of how the Patels, a clan from Gujarat, India, sought to improve their families’ economic circumstances by exploring opportunities in other countries. Though the early Patels had no plans to settle in America, their travels surreptitiously led them to the U.S., and they stumbled into the hospitality industry.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, this eventually led the Patels to become major players in the American hospitality enterprise and made their last name synonymous with their business.

The Story Begins In The 1920s

Surat to San Francisco opens with a short history of some early Gujaratis and Patels who found their way to America for brief periods but ultimately returned to their homes in India. As early as 1907, Patels traveled to America and other countries seeking financial opportunities to earn and send money home to their families. Many came to attend American universities.

A group of thirteen Patels who knew no English, relying on the buddy system for support, traveled through seven countries from Panama to America in the 1920s, only to either be deported or find no opportunities for success. All eventually returned to India, but three members of that Bhakta caravan returned more than twenty years later through a legal opportunity.

Much space is devoted to three Patels in particular, Naranji (Nanalal) Patel, Kanji Manchhu Desai, and Bhikhu Bhakta (aka D. Lal), who accidentally discovered the hotel business in California in the 1940s during the period of Japanese internment following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kanji was positioned to acquire a hotel lease from a Japanese woman who had to leave everything to be interred. This one serendipitous event ultimately paved the way for numerous Patels to acquire hotel leases and ownership in the Bay Area and throughout California.


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