Milan Patel’s fate is tied to southwest Georgia
Aug. 13 – ALBANY – Of all things, businessman Milan Patel found some career inspiration from a song by punk rock band Green Day. The song? “Boulevard of Shattered Dreams.”
“It was my life,” said Patel, who along with longtime business partner Umong Patel (no relation) and other business and investment groups in the region, is one of the most active from Albany and southwest Georgia, in a recent conversation. “Here, I had made my first million dollars at the age of 25, believing that the greatest thing in life was to be rich.
“That period, however, of putting all my eggs in one basket and building an accommodation/hotel portfolio, turned out to be the worst thing I’ve ever done and the best thing I’ve ever done. It was the worst because I ended up losing pretty much everything I had I was ashamed of having my house seized, my name in the paper It was the best thing because that it forced me to reset my life.
Patel and his business partners have since had their names attached to some of the best-known businesses in northwest Albany and southwest Georgia, as owners or owners of businesses like Olive Garden, Newk’s, Edible Arrangements, Dairy Queen, Bottom’s Up, Lucky’s, Steak and Shake, Panera Bread, Albany Mall property, new locations for the Georgia Department of Revenue and Habitat for Humanity.
From survival mode in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, Patel’s vision is now centered on service, to his business partners, to the people who work in his establishments and to the community that has finally become his home.
“Winston Churchill said, ‘Service is the rent we pay to live our lives,'” Patel said. “I found my calling when I decided it was time to live a purpose-driven life, not just to build things, but to build relationships with family, with community, with friends. I’m at a point in my life where I want to make a positive difference.”
Patel’s rise and position in life is not tied to a silver spoon. Born in Edison, NJ to immigrant parents, his family moved to Newnan, Georgia in the summer of 1992 when Patel’s father realized the opportunity to own a hotel in the central Georgia town. There he learned some of the harsh realities of an undeclared caste system in his home country.
“When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the way we had to live,” he says. “I didn’t like the fact that we lived in a hotel room, this entrepreneurial lifestyle. But as I got older, I learned to appreciate it, to realize that often in life you have to make the best of it. from what we have.”
After graduating from high school, Patel applied and got into the University of Georgia – “I love that movie ‘Rudy’, the determination of the main character. Like when he walked into that big football stadium determined to play for Notre Dame, I was determined to go to a Tier 1 school, and I realized that at UGA.”
In Athens, Patel met his longtime business partner Umong Patel in a university weight room, and together they started what would become – with a few bumps along the way – one of the development groups of the Georgia’s most successful businesses.
The pair started with The Winery, a liquor store they bought from Ed Duffy – “He could have sold it to a lot of other people, but I think he wanted us to have it.” — and expanded into the hospitality industry. Then came the Great Recession.
“It was amazing, I had never seen a run on a bank before,” Patel said. “Every day I drove around seeing people lined up, trying to get their money out of the banks. I think we can all thank God for the strength of the FDIC.
“I just didn’t think things would stay bad, and I kept pumping money into a system that was at 80%. I kept thinking things would get better.”
They did not do it. And one day a bailiff showed up and told Patel his properties were seized.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, but there was nothing to do but walk away,” he said.
Patel went to a job fair and was offered a job managing a Waffle House restaurant, but his heart wasn’t really in it.
“I went to the guy who offered me the job and I said, ‘You’re going to hire me, but this isn’t the job for me. If I recommend someone, would you consider them? ‘” Patel said. “The guy said yes, and I introduced him to my brother, Vik, who had started working at a McDonald’s when our businesses failed. They gave Vik the job, and he moved on from managing a one to two to three to six to 10 restaurants.. Now he’s the company’s Vice President of Properties in Birmingham.
Patel was down, but he refused to concede the seizure of his property.
“My mortgage was $2,600 a month and I was only able to raise $1,000,” he said. “I was doing construction, odds and ends, and Vik and my wife were working. I went to the lawyer for the company that held the mortgage and said, ‘I can’t let you take it. my house.’ He said he couldn’t do anything about it, he couldn’t refinance my mortgage.
“I asked him if he knew how much a bag of cement cost. He looked at me puzzled. I told him that if he tried to take my house, 20 dollars later, I could fix it where he could never sell the He ended up putting the amount I had overdue, and I was allowed to start over.
Patel easily entered graduate school at Emery University with a new plan: “I’ll never get involved in business again; I’ll work the rest of my life for someone else.”
But Patel was smart enough to recognize a business opportunity when he saw one, and when he had the chance to buy a failing Holiday Inn in Albany for “20 cents on the dollar,” he took it. “We cleaned up this property, spent all of our time there, working to modernize it, and after about two months we reopened it,” Patel said. “We ran the hotel, but we knew the real value was the property.”
So Patel tried to give Albany what he wanted: an Olive Garden restaurant.
“We were able to get a deal on this property, and it lifted us up,” he said.
Over the next several years, many of the high profile business deals in and around Albany involved the Patels and other partners. And soon, the slightly run-down property in northwest Albany around the then aging Albany Mall came alive with new, more upscale businesses.
“There are basically two aspects to our business: ownership and commercial ownership,” Patel said. “Either we get deeply involved in a property or we use it as an incubator to bring in other investment dollars.”
There are developments on the horizon: Milan and Umong Patel either own 10 acres of land in the Albany Mall, they’re involved in the new Pop Shelf development behind the Panera Bread property, and they’re expanding to other segments of the region.
Which begs the question: are you always on the lookout for potential new development opportunities?
“I can honestly say that at this point in my life and career, I’m not looking,” Patel said. “If something interesting comes our way, we’ll do our best. But we’re not actively looking. There will come a time in the next 10 to 15 years when I know I’m going to consider a life with less responsibility. But I’m at the stage in my career where I’m going to do the things that interest me, and I’m at a point where I want to help the next generation of business owners.
And, Patel admits, unless there’s a golden opportunity that pulls him in, he’ll do that job in and around Southwest Georgia.
“I sold The Winery because I couldn’t wait to leave Albany,” Patel said. “I planned to go home (to Newnan) and never look back. But there is a word in Indian culture, ‘nasip’, which translates to ‘your destiny’. About a year after I started having success with some developments here, my mom said to me, “You gotta stop fighting the fact that Albany is your home now.”
“Nasip. When I accepted this as my destiny, I stopped looking for projects. They started coming to me.”