Chirag Patel's Philly deli bet

Chirag Patel and three partners, also named Patel, are quickly expanding their Burlington County-based Prayosha Patel group with this week's deal to open 30 of Focus Brands Inc.'s Jewish deli-themed Schlotzsky's sandwich shops, with Cinnabon and Carvel franchies attached, around Philadelphia. (The Patels in the group "are not directly related," but trace their roots to Gujarat state in India, where many Patels are hotel-keepers.)

By Chirag's count the deal will in time more-than-triple employment at Prayosha's hotels and restaurants, to over 1,300. He's hoping to open in and near suburban Septa stations and other "non-traditional locations."

Patel came to Pennsylvania to study for master's degree in engineering and management at Penn State. Twelve years ago he went partners with Dasharath Patel, who owned a chain of Dunkin Donuts franchises. Now, with partners Ashok Patel and Atul Patel, they operate chain restaurants and Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn locations at mostly suburban sites from New York's Mid-Hudson Valley to South Jersey.

Chirag's special focus has been restaurants, including a string of Dunkin Donuts, and a growing number of Moe's Southwest Grills at local sites including, soon, Septa's Suburban Station. Moe's are owned by Austin-based Focus, which is owned by Neal K. Aronson's Atlanta-based Roark Capital, named for the hero architect Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead. Chirag made friends with Focus boss Kelly Roddy, and Schlotzsky's seemed like a good next step.

Aren't sandwich shops a tough business in Philadelphia, the hoagie city? "We like very much the business case of Scholtzsky's," Chirag told me. "It's a very premium grade product. Upscale." He's done the math, and he's ready for the work, he says.

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