When Sonal and Ramesh Patel built a house in Cascade, in southeast Grand Rapids, in 2011, they quickly noticed something missing: an Asian grocer on that side of town.
The couple, from a small town in Gujarat, in western India, had been in West Michigan since 2004, when Ramesh was hired by a rural clinic unable to find a physical therapist applicant in the United States. His wife, Sonal, an electrical engineer, followed a few months later. When her engineering credits didn’t transfer, she earned an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology while raising three young children and managing a hotel.
And although the latter was her only business experience, she couldn’t help but to start looking for a retail space after their move to Cascade. “I grew up in a business family,” says Sonal. “And somehow my destiny came back to that.”
The couple found a space on 28th Street SE, installed new flooring, painted, and built shelves, all themselves, and opened India Market in 2015. Today about 40 percent of customers are non-Asians, and they have a lot of questions. “They want to learn Indian cooking, but they don’t know what to buy,” she says. “Even though I try to explain, they were looking around going, ‘Is there an Indian restaurant around this place?’”
When the business next door closed, Sonal knew immediately what to do: She and Ramesh opened an Indian restaurant. They hired a Nepalese chef who grew up in Bombay, and prepares authentic, mostly northern, Indian dishes. Indian Masala now has seven employees; India Market has two. After the restaurant opened, in early 2017, sales at the grocery store increased by 25 percent. “Whoever comes for the restaurant, they want to try the food and cook and they go to the store. And whoever comes to the store wants to try the food and so goes to the restaurant,” Sonal says.
“The community, my neighbors, everyone has been super supportive. I never felt like an outsider. That’s what I love about the Grand Rapids community.”
Sonal enjoys being able to give back to Grand Rapids. “The community, my neighbors, everyone has been super supportive,” she says. “I never felt like an outsider. That’s what I love about the Grand Rapids community.”