This item is an audio file.

Click to launch book reader: here

Oral History Interview with Ramesh Patel

Ramesh Patel was born on February 1, 1934 in Tanzania, Africa. He has three brothers, three sisters and two sons. Ramesh Patel lived in Africa until he was about 10 years old, when he moved to India due to World War II. In India, he lived with his family in a village and got his Bachelor's in Commerce at the Vidhyalaya College of Commerce. In 1969, Patel moved to the United States of America to begin a new life. He began as an accountant for the United Community Corporation and finally began his business in 1971. He started the first Indian grocery, American Indian Traders. His store was successful, as it was the only one in the area at the time.

Image 2: Marriage Ceremony: Baraat or Wedding Procession Ramesh Patel riding in the car, Studebaker, to his wedding. Ahmedabad, India May 1960.

Image 3: Marriage Ceremony: Greeting of the groom by bride’s family Ramesh Patel’s mother-in-law offers him a sweet. Ahmedabad, India May 1960.

Image 4: Marriage Ceremony: Wedding reception, Ramesh Patel with his bride, Bharti Patel sitting together at their wedding. Ahmedabad, India May 1960.

Image 5: Left to Right: Hemang Patel (son of Ramesh Patel) with his cousin Brajesh Patel. Nairobi, Kenya 1963.

Image 6: Left to Right: Hemang Patel (elder son), Pinank Patel (younger son); Ramesh Patel’s children wait to ride in their Fiat 500. Nairobi, Kenya 1967/1968.

Image 7: Left to Right: Ramesh Patel, Narendra Patel (friend) bought a new TV. East Orange, NJ 1969.

Image 8: Names Top Row then Bottom Row, Left to Right: Ramesh D. Patel, Pritam Patel, Vinu Patel, Jayenti Patel, Ramesh A. Patel, Urmila Patel, Nirmala Patel, Bharti Patel, Sumati Patel. Party at Ramesh Patel’s home in Edison, NJ 1978.

Image 9: Left To Right: Customer, Bharti Patel. Normal day at American Indian Traders. American Indian Traders, Edison NJ 25+ years ago.

Image 10: Ramesh Patel dressed for Garba in Rajasthan. Rajasthan, India March 2004.

Image 11: Left to Right: Ramesh Patel and (his wife) Bharti Patel. Charity Event, Edison NJ 2008.

Image 12: Left To Right: Bharti Patel, Nikil H. Patel, Ramesh Patel. Ramesh Patel at his grandson’s Nikil H. Patel’s graduation. Northeastern University, Boston MA.

Duration: 00:39:10

Date: December 31, 2019
Type: Oral History
Source: 4-H Langoor Club
Creator: Rishima Raval

*Glossary at the end*

Raval: This is Rishima Raval. I am a member of the Teen Chapter of 4-H Indian Langoor Club. Today is December 31st, 2019 and I am at 791 Wood Avenue to conduct an interview with Mr. Ramesh Patel, owner of the first Indian grocery store, American Indian Traders. This interview is being conducted for the Recording History: Live! inter-generational oral history program organized by the 4H Indian Langoor Club. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. Program funded in part by a grant to Middlesex County by the New Jersey Historical Commission. Good afternoon. Namaste, Mr. Ramesh Patel. Thank you for the opportunity. Shall we begin?

Patel: Thank you.

Raval: Okay, let’s start. When and where were you born?

Patel: I was born in Tanzania, in 1934, first February.

Raval: So, where did you grow up?

Patel: I stayed up to 10 years in Tanzania and went to India during the second World War.

Raval: What was your family like?

Patel: My family was with me. My father was staying in East Africa and I was staying with my mother.

Raval: What did your parents do for a living?

Patel: My father was immigration officer in Tanzania. He was a government servant.

Raval: Did you have any siblings?

Patel: Three brothers, three sisters.

Raval: What was your education like?

Patel: I was Bachelor of Commerce, in India, in 1958.

Raval: So how did you get to school?

Patel: I went to college, in India.

Raval: Like, what form of transportation?

Patel: Walking. I was walking, it was two miles away.

Raval: Oh wow! So did you live in a village?

Patel: Yeah.

Raval: Did you have electricity in the village?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: Where did you go to college and what did you major in?

Patel: In BJ College in Vidyanagar.

Raval: Did your education affect your choice to open your business?

Patel: No.

Raval: Okay, when and why did you move to America?

Patel: I left India in 1958 for East Africa because I was born there, and I was a resident of East Africa. After ten years I came over, I came in this country, 1969.

Raval: Did you have family living here already?

Patel: Family? No.

Raval: Oh ok, when did you get married?

Patel: I married on 28th May 1960.

Raval: So were you married before or after you came to America?

Patel: Before.

Raval: Did you guys come together, to America?

Patel: No, it was arranged marriage.

Raval: Yeah, but did you come to America with each other?

Patel: No, she came after me. After one year.

Raval: Okay, so how did you get the money for your trip to America?

Patel: I was working in Nairobi, East Africa and I had savings with me.

Raval: What was your job?

Patel: I was an accountant.

Raval: You said you didn’t know anyone here so where did you stay after coming to America?

Patel: I had my own apartment.

Raval: How did you adjust to such a new and different country?

Patel: It was risky, but I took advantage of my position and got success with my job and things. So, I adjusted myself.

Raval: Did you go back to either India or Africa, after coming to the United States?

Patel: Yes, three/four times.

Raval: Did you face any hardships such as discrimination or racism?

Patel: Not much.

Raval: How did you overcome the language barrier?

Patel: I didn’t have a problem because I was speaking English.

Raval: You learned it in school?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: After you moved to America, what job did you start off with?

Patel: I was accountant in United Community Corporation, in New Jersey

Raval: When did you decide to start your business?

Patel: 1970.

Raval: Was that when you started?

Patel: I left my job in 1971 and I started my business.

Raval: What was your inspiration to start the business?

Patel: My friend in England supported me to start the business.

Raval: Meaning funding or moral support?

Patel: It was funded by him.

Raval: Why did you decide on that specific location for your store?

Patel: There’s a lot of Indians, where I was living and a lot of hardship for the people to go to New York to buy their groceries. So, I thought it would be better to start over here so they get facility and we get business.

Raval: How long were you open for?

Patel: We were open for 3 hours at the time. 5 to 8, Sunday and Saturday.

Raval: Did people from outside of New Jersey come, as well?

Patel: Yeah, upstate New York.

Raval: Was it all Indians that came to your store?

Patel: Mostly Indians, at that time.

Raval: How many employees did you start off with?

Patel: We didn’t have employees. It was me, my wife, and my two sons.

Raval: Did your supplies come from India?

Patel: We used to ship from England and Kenya.

Raval: Who were your suppliers?

Patel: I forgot, but we had friends there who supplied us. India didn’t export, at that time. So we got our supplies from Kenya and England.

Raval: Did you face any hardships when importing these goods?

Patel: No, not that much.

Raval: We are restarting the interview with Mr. Ramesh Patel. Today is December 31st, 2019 and the time is 2:45 pm. So Mr. Patel, going back to your childhood, you said you grew up in Africa. Your parents were already living there?

Patel: Yes, my father lived there.

Raval: Did your grandparents or parents live there?

Patel: My father left for Africa when he was 18 years old.

Raval: He met your mother in Africa?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: Was your mother Indian?

Patel: No, my father came back to India and he married my mother.

Raval: Oh ok. In your village, who did you play with? Like your friends, or relatives.

Patel: My mother used to stay. I left when I was 10 years old, for India, during second World War. There I studied primary school, secondary school, and college education.

Raval: The second World War, so conditions were bad in Africa?

Patel: Yes, it was World War. The condition was bad, so we had to leave. My father was there. Only my father lived alone in East Africa.

Raval: So did you stay with family in India?

Patel: Yes. My mother used to go back every 3-4 years to East Africa, to help my father.

Raval: Why did your father stay back?

Patel: He was working there, for the government.

Raval: Was he allowed to leave?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: But he chose not to?

Patel: He was officer there.

Raval: Was settling in India, after staying in Africa for so long, hard?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: You made friends quickly and everything?

Patel: Yes, I lived about 25 years there.

Raval: Did you ever go back to Africa after World War II?

Patel: When I finished my education, I went back there in 1958.

Raval: What made you want to quit your job and come to America?

Patel: The situation was changing in East Africa, so we have no jobs. I applied for Visa and got it.

Raval: Were you fired and you had to find somewhere to work?

Patel: No, I had to quit it and got pension from Kenya government.

Raval: Oh. What about your brothers and sisters? Did they come to America with you?

Patel: No, they were in England.

Raval: Did you ever go to England to visit them?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: Moving back to your business in America, what was the location like?

Patel: In 1971, we started the business in Newark, New Jersey, on Stanford Avenue. We used to open for three hours everyday. Saturday and Sunday for four hours. That we did for about 11 years, we did business there. In 1978, I came to Oaktree Road. There we opened up the store and were open from 3:30 pm - 8 pm.

Raval: Did that give more business to you?

Patel: Yeah I had three stores. One was in Newark, one was on Canal Street, New York, and one was in Edison.

Raval: What was the environment like in your first store?

Patel: It was a good environment.

Raval: What was the population in that area?

Patel: The population was very good because of the Hilltop apartments. There were lots of Indians there coming there. My store was about half a mile away from them, so they would come.

Raval: When did your wife come to America?

Patel: After one year. At that time she was not working. With me, she used to work in the factory.

Raval: Before your wife came and helped you, were you the only one running it?

Patel: She was helping when we moved to Oaktree Road.

Raval: Before that did you run the whole store?

Patel: Yeah.

Raval: When did you start your other two stores?

Patel: 1976 we started Canal store.

Raval: When other Indian grocery stores started, was there more competition?

Patel: No, at that time I was the only store.

Raval: Like later on when Patel Brothers and stores like that came, was your business affected?

Patel: They came 10 years later. It was affected a little bit, but not much. I ran all three stores for 30 years

Raval: What made you want to start closing your stores?

Patel: Yeah because I was retiring at the age of 66-67, I closed all the stores.

Raval: I’m restarting the interview. Today is December 31, 2019. The time is 5:57 pm and I’m at 791 Wood Avenue,to conduct the interview of Mr. Ramesh Patel the owner of the first Indian grocery store, American Indian Traders. Going back to your business, you had three stores in three different locations so how did you deal with that?

Patel: My son managed Newark stores. I had an employee in Newark, who used to take care of Newark stores. Me and my wife used to take care of Oaktree Road store.

Raval: Were you related to that employee?

Patel: No, I hired him.

Raval: Did you hire him based on skills or personal connections?

Patel: No, he was from Pakistan. He was a good guy, so he worked for me.

Raval: Did he have some sort of routine to check on all of your stores?

Patel: No, I trusted my employees.

Raval: You said you only kept the stores for three hours a day?

Patel: The Newark store, I used to open for whole day.

Raval: How did you manage with the risks of only keeping the store open for 3 hours?

Patel: Most people were working at that time. When they had time on Saturday, Sunday, and afternoon was my office hours.

Raval: What stable job did you have beside the stores?

Patel: I was working in the United Community Corporation as an accountant, up to 4:30.

Raval: What did you sell in all of your stores?

Patel: I sold foods to the customers that used to come to our stores.

Raval: What was the most popular?

Patel: Mostly lentils, rice, spices. There were no expensive stuff like today. Mostly rice and vegetables. We used to send outside in the UPS to different states, to their houses. Out of state, people don’t get Indian grocery. They used to call us and we would send through United Parcel Service. When they got their groceries, they would send a check to us.

Raval: Did you ever run out of supplies and couldn’t import them in time?

Patel: No. Our business was very stable.

Raval: What would you say is the hardest part about starting a business?

Patel: The hardest part was that the supply was not regular. So we have to wait for the goods to sell.

Raval: On those kind of days, would you have to keep your stores closed?

Patel: Not closed, but the business becomes slow.

Raval: Do you think that the help from your wife and sons benefited you personally?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: When did you have both of your sons?

Patel: After school, they would come to help me.

Raval: When were they born?

Patel: One was 15 years old, the elder one. The other was 12. One was born in East Africa and one was born in India.

Raval: Did you have kids before you moved to America?

Patel: Yes, the kids came with their mother, in 1971.

Raval: At the age of 15 and 12, they would be helping you?

Patel: Yes, after school. They came after eating and everything.

Raval: What would they be helping you with?

Patel: They would fill up the bags.

Raval: At what age, did you allow your older son to run the Newark business?

Patel: When they went to college, they helped me for up to 25 years.

Raval: Getting back to your business, how long did your children run the business for?

Patel: They helped me after school until college. Me and my wife used to run the business and one was closed down in the Stanford Avenue.

Raval: Why did you close it down?

Patel: We were short of people and we didn’t have time to operate three businesses.

Raval: Did you ever quit your job, the government job, to focus on the business?

Patel: Yes, I worked for only 4-5 years in the government job. Afterwards, I quit.

Raval: What are your children doing now?

Patel: One is engineer, electrical engineer. One is technician, ultrasound technician.

Raval: Did they start their own businesses?

Patel: One is working in Florida and one has his own business.

Raval: When you shut down all the stores, did you sell them?

Patel: Two I just closed down and one I sold.

Raval: As time passed and restaurants started opening up in the area, did they get most of their supplies from your store?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: More stores were opening too, so who was your main competition?

Patel: There were no stores in Canal Street, I used to supply most of the restaurants in Newark. Here I supplied some of the restaurants as they need.

Raval: Does the store you have open still get its things shipped in from Africa and England?

Patel: Yes.

Raval: Did you ever think about changing your supplier to India because you were selling Indian products?

Patel: No, because our demand was not that high at the time. So we used to buy locally.

Raval: Do you know where the stores that came later on got their products from?

Patel: I don’t know. Most of us used to buy locally.

Raval: Did the opening of the new stores affect your business?

Patel: Yes, after sometime it was affected. 20-25 years later I had to shut down the stores, all of them.

Raval: When you shipped to people’s homes out of state, did you ship to restaurants/businesses?

Patel: No, we never supplied outside restaurants. It was just the local businesses.

Raval: Does the store you still have open have a good amount of customers and sales?

Patel: Yeah, a good amount of sales and everything.

Raval: What was the diversity of your customers?

Patel: Not much, most of them were Indian.

Raval: As your business grew, did you start importing more? Instead of just a few types of products like vegetables, fruits, and things?

Patel: Vegetables we never imported. We went to the wholesale market to buy and sell the products. Afterwards, Chinese people grew some Indian vegetables and we bought from them.

Raval: What did you learn from the hardships you faced when starting a business?

Patel: We are used to the hardships, so I don’t feel that bad. I used to run around three stores and work.

Raval: What advice would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs, who are trying to start their own business?

Patel: I don’t know what advice I would give because of how much it has changed.

Raval: What advice would you give to your younger self to improve your business?

Patel: Work hard and have a supply of money. I worked without money and it was very tough.

Raval: I think we are just about done with the interview. Thank you for your time!

Patel: Thank you!


Aden: A port city in Yemen.

Andheri: A suburb in North Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

Bhai: It means ‘brother’ in Hindi. It is a term often used to refer to people who you are not related by blood yet share a brotherly relationship. It is also often used out of respect.

Bombay: Now known as Mumbai. Located in Maharashtra, it is India’s commercial capital city.

Borivali: A suburb in North Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

Calcutta: Now known as Kolkata. It is the capital city of West Bengal, India.

Diwali: The festival of lights. It marks the return of Lord Rama, his wife Goddess Sita, and his brother, Lord Laxman from exile to their home city Ayodhya and the victory of good over evil. It is celebrated for five days by decorating the house, placing oil lamps, lighting fireworks, and exchanging gifts.

Dot busters: A hate group in Jersey City that targeted Indians.

Navratri: It is a nine day long day Hindu festival. It marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. It is celebrated differently in different regions of India. One popular way of celebration is by doing Garba, a traditional Gujarati folk dance, around a portrait of Goddess Durga.

Par: It means ‘but’ or ‘however’ in Hindi.

Collection: Recording History: Live! Oral History Project
Item History: 2021-06-11 (created); 2021-06-15 (modified)

* This digital object may not be sold or redistributed, copied or distributed as a photograph, electronic file, or any other media without express written consent from the copyright holder and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). The user is responsible for all issues of copyright. If you are the rightful copyright holder of this item and its use online constitutes an infringement of your copyright, please contact us by email at to discuss its removal from the archive.