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How Indian Americans Came to Run Half of All U.S. Motels

As a new immigrant to the United States in the early 1970s, Jayantibhai Patel slept very little. By day he held down a job at a bank in San Francisco. By night he toiled in the city’s run-down Tenderloin district at the Vincent Hotel, a property he had acquired not long after moving to the country. Patel’s sleepless nights paid off. By the 1980s he and his two sons were running several motels and hotels in California, and now, four years after Patel’s death, his granddaughters are taking the family business forward.

The success of Patel and his family mirrors the rise of Indian Americans in the U.S. motel industry. About half the country’s motels are now owned by Indian Americans. A majority of these owners are from Gujarat state’s industrious Patel community, leading them to be jokingly referred to as the Patel Motel Cartel. Growing up in motels run by their immigrant parents, many second- and third-generation Gujaratis in the United States imbibed an entrepreneurial spirit and ethic of hard work, which they are applying to modernizing the businesses they inherited and launching new businesses of their own.

“The way that my uncle and father worked was very mom-and-pop style,” says Katki Patel, one of Jayantibhai Patel’s granddaughters who is director of finance at the family’s San Jose–based Lotus Management. Starting in 2006, Katki’s older sister, Pratima, centralized the accounting processes for the company, allowing lenders and investors to easily assess the financial health of the properties managed by it. “Without this, it would have been impossible to grow the business,” Katki says. A certified financial planner by training, Katki got a real estate license so that she could broker deals on behalf of the company. Her younger sister, Sita, is in charge of developing new hotels. The company currently owns 12 properties and plans to open three new ones by the end of the year.

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