La Verne Magazine
"La Verne's Small-Town Businesses"
Churning Milk Into Fiscal Success
by J.R. Gonsalves
photography by Ryan Sones
Serving America's fast-paced lifestyle, Babu Patel's drive-through market
easily fits many of his customers' schedules. For 20 years, the Inland Valley
Dairy market has established itself as a fixture in the La Verne community.
In addition to the dairy, Patel, who resides in La Verne, owns a hotel and
a shopping center.
The land in parts of India resembles a hard-packed, dry desert -- a
place, where it seems, a person not readily would find a drive-up dairy.
However, according to Babu K. Patel, owner and operator of the Inland
Dairy in La Verne, Calif., there are a plethora of dairies in India.
His father owned such a dairy in Western India while Patel was growing
up. "Milk dairies are a part of my family," says Patel who has
lived in La Verne and has owned the Inland Dairy for 20 years.
At 51 years of age, Patel has gone through five grand openings: three
dairies, a shopping center and a Travel Lodge hotel have opened under Patel's
ownership. Currently, three of the businesses remain open under Patel's
ownership: the Inland Dairy, the Travel Lodge and the Valencia Shopping
Center in Fullerton.
Patel's La Verne dairy business has been successful. He says he has
customers who have come in regularly for nearly 20 years. Patel describes
his dairy on his business card: Inland Dairy, Alta-Dena Milk, Ice Cream,
Beer, Soft Drinks, Cigarettes. There might have been a sandwich or a hot
dog left out of the business card equation, but it is still a perfect menu
for a place that offers everything from an ice cold beer, to a nice warm
burrito-that is, if you heat the burrito up after removing it from the cooler.
These "buy anything" stores are almost extinct, but Patel,
whose first name intrigues a person enough to want to go into this drive
through dairy in the first place, says he makes a decent living. And, although
the large shopping center and Travel Lodge occupy much of his time, he finds
his home close to his dairy, where he first started.
Here, in La Verne, is where Patel can get close to his customers and
become familiar with what they need and want. "I enjoy working here,
because I like working with the people who come into the dairy on a regular
basis," says Jay Rawal who started working with Patel seven years ago
at the shopping center in Fullerton.
"I have many workers," says Patel in his middle Eastern accent,
"who work for me at different locations. If work is slow at one of
my stores, I will move an employee to another place that needs work."
This lends the idea that Patel is loyal to his workers, and he does
not fret when business slows down. These traits are definite positives for
a man who started his life in a poverty stricken country.
While Patel was living through his father's milk distributing days,
he managed to receive a B.S. in chemistry from Gugarti University in India.
From India, Patel came to the United States and received a B.S. in electronics
and an M.B.A. in business from Pacific University in Los Angeles.
Patel is a member of the Chamber of Commerce in La Verne, and he is
an acting member of the California Merchants Safety Association. "I
have owned this place for 20 years, and it has only been a positive,"
says Patel, as he reached for the telephone to answer a personal call.
Sitting alongside the daily lottery tickets, Patel explained how he
was "so busy," and one realizes how owning a dairy, a hotel and
a shopping center might get time consuming. What makes it even more unbelievable
is how far apart each of his ventures are. The cities vary from the Travel
Lodge in Bakersfield, to the shopping center in Fullerton, to the dairy
in La Verne. It is in La Verne where Patel resides and says he spends most
of his time.
Patel has many loyalties, to his workers, to his sons and to his businesses,
but the most important loyalty is to his wife Kenta, of 29 years. "My
wife occasionally works for me and has been around each of my businesses
since they opened," says Patel, who feels that Kenta is the backbone
of all of his businesses.
Patel has two sons and his marriage that he must think of when he is
doing business. These two things take priority over everything else, he
Babu Patel is a man of many responsibilities, but what he always remembers
is that he can only do so many things at once, and by balancing priorities,
he keeps everything in order.
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