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Jul 26, 2022

For Rick Patel, Security Blankets Are the Enemy

Tim Wood

Photography By

2Lights, 1Stand Photography
He just might be the busiest businessman you’ve never heard of, and that’s alright by Rick Patel. He’s much more about sharing his vision with you face-to-face than marketing a brand. “I don’t have interest in being interviewed or photographed, but if it can lead to spreading my message and creating more opportunities, well then, […]

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He just might be the busiest businessman you’ve never heard of, and that’s alright by Rick Patel. He’s much more about sharing his vision with you face-to-face than marketing a brand.

“I don’t have interest in being interviewed or photographed, but if it can lead to spreading my message and creating more opportunities, well then, let’s have a conversation,” said the 40-year-old serial entrepreneur in agreeing to this story.

It’s not that talking about himself isn’t his comfort zone. It’s more that Patel is passionate about obliterating comfort zones.

“Doing things because it’s the way they’ve always been done, keeping systems because we’re afraid of failure or change, it just holds us back,” Patel said. “I’ve learned this through life lessons, and I want to show folks there is another way to approach business, education, and life.”

Patel’s father, Dinesh, moved his wife and two kids from India to Spartanburg, S.C. in 1987. Rick knew his dad as a farmer with an epic heart, always giving to others first. Dinesh worked hard, instilled a giving spirit in his kids and pushed them to strive for a life beyond a farm.

“I was taught that the path there was college, so I aced my AP classes in high school and headed to USC to be a pharmacist,” Patel said. He dropped out 18 months in.

“The college life was so scattered, so many ways to be distracted. I was hanging out, just everything but school, and it was not for me. It was a huge disappointment, but it was not my path,” Patel said of choosing to drop out.

So, Patel began a life with his future wife, Vaishali, and moved to Hardeeville at age 23. Under the tutelage of his father-in-law, he opened a gas station in downtown Hardeeville in 2006. Opening his own business felt like the endgame—that a comfortable living as a business owner and family man was the pinnacle.

“I never thought of expanding until I tried to help my nephew open another station in 2013,” he said. “My nephew backed out of the deal, and I had to discover how to run my second business remotely without it being owner operated. But I got this taste of helping others, and I saw that I could help my family and others by pushing hard beyond those boundaries I’d set for myself or let others set for me.”

Over the next five years, Patel bought three more gas and convenient stores, a pharmacy, a liquor store, warehouse space, and a grocery store. He built a staff of 40-plus employees and found a passion for giving wannabe entrepreneurs a hand up.

“I love team building, because the core of that is just planting a vision, empowering people to think for themselves, to think of better ways to build the business,” he said. “I’m one person. I’m so much more powerful when I open myself to new ideas and give people the confidence to help me achieve those plans.”

As his businesses grew, Patel knew it was time to be more aggressive in giving back on a wider scale to the community that helped build him up. He and Vaishali created the Patel Foundation, and just months after its launch, they faced an immediate chance to help.

In 2019, when a tornado hit upper Jasper County, he organized to deliver meals, water and groceries to those displaced by the tragedy. He utilized his network of suppliers to put together a food drive in 2020 that, to date, has provided over 800,000 pounds of groceries to area families. 

“It’s alarming to see so many folks not even have the basics of survival, let alone the help to find a path to a bigger life,” Patel said. “We are committed to not just providing help in the moment, but to setting up systems that eliminate these food deficiencies in the first place. We have to do better than just putting a Band-Aid over a dam. I know we can do better.”

Patel and his family were presented with the inaugural Heartbeat of Hardeeville award by the Town Council in March 2021, created to honor residents that go above and beyond for the betterment of the town and its people. The Patel Foundation has continued to host community food drives while building a food distribution network with a growing roster of area business leaders and has created a supplies partnership with the Jasper County School District to address food and supply gaps between school district budgets and the growing population.

“How do we keep moving forward? That’s the key. It feels like we face crushing obstacles every day, but it just makes the successes all the sweeter,” he said. “My parents are amazing people, they always believed in me, but I had far too many people give up on me along the way. I’m never going to give up on my neighbors.”

Patel is now the father of two (son Ayaan, 8, and daughter Aanya, 12) and sees the struggles area youth face as a school parent. It has inspired him to turn his foundation’s focus to launching an after-school resources program in Hardeeville and beyond. The program is focused on financial and life skills coaching to help area kids develop better tools for problem solving.

“I talk to 14- and 15-year-olds that want to work for us. I ask them crazy questions, like if your friend did drugs, how would you react? How do you not just handle the peer pressure, but help them find another path? And what I find so often is that these decisions kids and teens make, it so often comes down to confidence,” Patel said. “It is all about self-confidence, and they live in a time where the messages they get on social media are just chipping away at any hope of building that confidence. That’s where we come in.”

The pilot program will target kindergarten through third grade to begin, with the plan to add a grade each year to grow as the kids grow.

“I’m so excited to get this off the ground. When we can give kids the foundation to believe in themselves—in their decisions and their possibilities—we can really change the story of this community’s next generations,” he said. “College is not the path for everyone, but education in any and all forms is the key—to be able to think for yourself and find solutions in any situation. Teaching yourself core truths like hard work, dedication and persistence. When you can do that, you’re never stuck, you’re always moving forward.”

Patel is practicing what he’s preaching on the possibilities front. In the last year alone, Patel has expanded his business empire to include insurance through a partnership with Danny McKenzie.

“He invited me into the business, and I found I just loved connecting with people and simplifying this insurance game for people,” he said. “We’re going to offer every kind of insurance from every possible company under one roof—a one-stop shop.”

Patel has expanded his liquor distribution business through partnerships with businesses like Palmetto Bluff and more than 130 restaurants in the area. He invested heavily in app technology to creat better service and streamlined ordering for his clients. And he recently joined as a part owner in a Mezcal brand as the exclusive U.S. importer of the brand.

“These different opportunities, I feel so blessed. I think back to the early days, how I was perfectly content in making a decent living and what has happened since I pushed beyond those limits I had put on myself,” Patel said. “Comfort zones are dangerous. They are the destroyers of potential.”

Patel’s next step outside comfort zones is opening his first brick-and-mortar business in Beaufort County. He is working to open a 23,000-square-foot liquor and party store in Bluffton and is excited to dive into the community the same way he has in Hardeeville.

“I’ve been told I’m a Pied Piper of positivity. I truly enjoy raising others around me, whether that’s businesses or families or my staff,” he said. “The challenge of building a new team, of teaching folks to not just run a register, but to realize how much they can do beyond the register, that’s what makes me excited to start each day.

“I’m a go-go-go guy, but I also live in the moment. Our family enjoys the fruits of the labor; we savor it all,” Patel said. “Showing Ayaan and Aanya that their futures are limitless, inspiring them to surround themselves with good friends and to be mentors, that’s the endgame. I believe there is so much untapped territory to grow and invest in the Lowcountry. Investing in technology is essential. But above all, investing in people, that’s how we will blow past every obstacle to achieve a future beyond our dreams.” 

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