Community Minded Businessman
|Pinning one label on Waterloo’s Abhay Patel is about as risky as predicting Donald Trump’s next temper tantrum. After graduating in 2006 as a Chemical Engineer from the University of Waterloo, Patel skedaddled to Germany to begin a graduate degree in Environmental Sustainability. Then, giving in to his yearnings to own his own business, he came home long enough to put in an offer on an area nightclub. Subsequently he re-crossed the Atlantic to take his Pharmacy degree in Manchester, England.
In the end, the then 30-year-old Patel had decided that pharmacy was the perfect profession to fulfill an inborn need to help his community, while at the same time getting involved in real estate acquisition. “I guess that both are in my genes,” he laughs.
“I had an itch to run my own business – or
That serendipitous pairing has borne fruit. Since being licensed in 2012 as a pharmacist in Ontario, Abhay Patel has purchased five Waterloo Region pharmacies and an historic area hotel. Today at age 36, and still looking for new “projects,” Patel has never let moss grow under his peripatetic feet.
Born in South Africa, the son of Mohan Patel, a physician radiologist and Devi Patel, a homemaker and business manager, Abhay, his older sister and his parents moved to the Waterloo Region when he was seven. With a large extended family in the province, thick in professionals, including physicians, pharmacists and Ph.D.’s, Abhay had a number of role models he could follow.
But he kept coming back to one desire. “I had an itch to run my own business – or businesses, for that matter.” In the end, it was Pharmacy that best allowed him to follow his dream. “I could earn a good living as a pharmacist, helping people with their health needs, while I dabbled in real estate,” he explains.
By the end of Pharmacy school in Manchester, he had real estate brokers in England, Europe and Waterloo Region looking for pharmacy businesses for sale. Just as he was completing his Ontario Pharmacy certification, one came up – Pharmacist Dave Kruk, who ran the Pharmasave in New Hamburg, was retiring. One look at the spacious location, in an attractive new plaza in the center of the pretty Wilmot Township town was enough for Patel.
“I put an offer in immediately and it was accepted.” Not having practiced a day as a professional pharmacist, he was now doing double duty as a store owner/manager too. “I remember two days before I was to take over, having a bit of a panic attack,” Patel laughs. “What am I doing? What have I gotten into?”
Staff nerves were equally frayed. “We had no idea what was coming,” says longtime employee Maureen Kelly. “We were getting a brand-new pharmacist, right out of school, who was also running the place!” Within no time, all was well.
“No staff left, so I guess they thought I was OK,” laughs Patel, who works behind the counter one day a week.
More than OK, it seems. “We loved him right away,” says Kelly. She praises her boss’ collaborative leadership style. “Whenever he’s got an idea he always calls the staff together to see what we think and sample our ideas.” She calls her boss “a loveable teddy bear.”
It seems that Patel’s business itch had only been whetted by his first pharmacy purchase. Within a year, he learned the Westmount Place Pharmacy in Waterloo, one of the oldest in the Region, was up for sale. Partnering with his uncle Harry Khoosal, also a pharmacist, in September 2013, Patel purchased Westmount. Three months later, when the Patels heard that a pharmacy was being planned for a new plaza in Baden, the pair stepped up again.
“I remember two days before I was to take over, having a bit of a panic attack. ”
It was during the Baden Pharmasave planning that Abhay Patel’s wandering eye focused on the historic Baden Hotel, just across Snyder’s Road. Built in 1874, the hotel had gone through its ups and downs over the decades, its name being changed to EJ’s during the ownership of EJ Adlys in the 1980’s.
By June 2016, the pair had struck a deal. But unlike the majority of previous Baden Hotel owners, Patel would be a behind-the-scenes presence. “I like to look after the development side when I take over a business and let others, more qualified than I, do the front stuff.” So, with the current hotel staff carrying on as usual, Patel could manage improvements and upgrades.
From the outset, Patel liked the small-town welcoming feel in Baden – the same as he’d experienced when he came to New Hamburg. “People were friendly, wanting to help in whatever way they could,” he says. He recalls heading down to the hotel’s 140-year-old basement with a number of hangers-on. “And everybody just wanted to pitch in. I got such a positive view of small town life.”
Back behind the pharmacy counter at the Town Square Pharmacy in New Hamburg, Patel soon learned that with the friendly tone of rural life, day-to-day living could be inconvenient too – especially for the elderly and those with disabilities. “People would come into the drugstore for their medications and tell me that if they needed any assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs, they’d have to go into Kitchener or Stratford. And that wasn’t always easy.” That got Abhay Patel’s busy brain clicking.
In 2016, Town Square Pharmasave in New Hamburg, and later Westmount Place in Waterloo, became certified under the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Assistive Devices Program (ADP) to sell Home Health Care products. With its objective to provide consumer-centered support and funding to Ontario residents who have long-term disabilities, the ADP program facilitates acquisition, with flexible financial terms, of affordable assistive devices such as scooters, wheelchairs, beds, commodes, bath safety equipment, as well as canes and crutches. ADP-approved outlets offer equipment for rent as an alternative to the expense of purchasing.
“We really like the small towns. You just get to know your customers better.”
With business percolating at his three pharmacies, as well as at the Baden Hotel, Abhay Patel was busy. But it appears, not busy enough. With the closure of the Schreiter-Sandrock Funeral Home on Benton Street in Kitchener, a new medical center would be opening. The Patels were approached by the physicians taking over the building, to open a pharmacy in the building. The Benton Street Pharmasave opened in May 2017.
And more business dealings were to come. The Breslau Commons Pharmacy opened in July 2018 with familiar names – Abhay Patel and Harry Khoosal – on the mortgage. “We really like the small towns,” says Patel. “You just get to know your customers better.”
In response to the question of how Patel can be in five places at one time, he laughs. “I only actually work as a pharmacist in the New Hamburg store, one day a week.” He calls his first store “his baby.” All other stores are staffed with manager pharmacists.
But there’s more to Patel than opening pharmacies and modernizing historic hotels. For a number of years, he’s been a behind-the-scenes worker with Community Care Concepts, a not-for-profit, volunteer-run agency which provides support services to seniors and those with disabilities in the Townships of Wilmot, Wellesley and Woolwich. These include the Meals on Wheels program, assistive transport and homemaker services.
Patel has volunteered his time and resources at countless CCC outreach events and educational sessions on health and aging. Cathy Harrington, CCC Executive Director is expansive in her praise for Abhay Patel, calling him “a strong business leader, a compassionate community builder and an active, informed and engaged resident in his local community.” She lauds Patel’s ability to “integrate his business acumen with a strong social conscience.”
January 2018 saw the announcement that the Baden Hotel would become the Baden Brewery. Four Wilmot Township area stakeholders, along with Abhay Patel would begin conversion of the historic establishment dating back to 1874, into a craft brewery. The restaurant part of the enterprise will remain.
“With all his business experience, we were really happy that Abhay volunteered to stay on,” says Dave Schumm, new General Manager of the Baden Hotel.
And despite his promise to remain firmly behind-the-scenes in this ambitious project, Patel has a hankering to restore the building’s upper floors into a boutique hotel. And so, for the Engineer who became an Environmentalist, a Pharmacist, a Real Estate investor, a Hotel Owner and a Community Helper, it might be best for family and friends to keep this 36-year-old locked up and safe from temptations.
But don’t let them. Waterloo Region needs more Abhay Patels.
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