Patel Brothers bringing Indian spice to vacant Naperville storefront

An Indian grocery chain will bring new life - and new spices - to a vacant Naperville building that's been unused for the past 15 years, officials announced Friday.

Patel Brothers plans to open a grocery store and develop spaces for 17 other shops at 1568 Ogden Ave., where the relocation of Menards in the early 2000s left a large empty storefront the city struggled to fill.

Mayor Steve Chirico didn't hide his excitement at filling the former Menards - one of at least four major retail vacancies left behind in Naperville by the likes of Dominick's and Kmart.

"I'm so stoked," he said, standing in front of a green Patel Brothers tractor-trailer that proclaimed the business as the "largest Indo Pak grocery store chain in America." "You cannot imagine."

The future home of Patel Brothers, scheduled to open in August, has been "at the crosshairs" of the city's renewed focus on economic development since Chirico took office two years ago.

"It is the poster child of what so many communities across the country are going through with these big-box stores," he said.

The 88,000-square-foot shop on an 8-acre site has been a hard sell, partially because a shared parking agreement with other businesses at the corner of Ogden and Jefferson avenues, such as Gemato's Wood Pit BBQ and Mr. Shesha Hookah Lounge, precluded it from having enough space to be sold to a car dealer, said Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership.

"We were really anxious to see this become a retail use," Jeffries said.

Patel Brothers is making that happen thanks to a connection that came together last August at the second annual India Day Parade in Naperville. Parade organizers introduced Chirico to brothers Swetal and Rakesh Patel, who took over the business from founding brothers Mafat and Talashi Patel, who opened the chain's first store in 1974 in Chicago.

Swetal Patel said the founders were immigrants from the Gujarat region of India working in engineering and assembly when they "craved a taste of home." Their hankering for the spices, sauces, breads and produce of their native land has grown into a chain with 52 stores across the country including suburban locations in Schaumburg and Hanover Park.

"Everybody knows Patel Brothers in the Indian community," said Krishna Bansal, chairman of Naperville Indian Community Outreach, which organizes the India Day Parade. "They have been a household name."

A Naperville location has been on Patel Brothers' wish list for years, so company leaders were glad to strike a deal with the agent trying to fill the former Menards when Chirico connected to two after the parade.

Patel Brothers bought the site for $4.75 million, Rakesh Patel said, and plans to invest an additional $5.5 million to build out its 39,000-square-foot grocery space and separate areas for two salons, a flower shop, an Indian meat store and deli, a fitness studio, a juice bar, a jewelry store, a clothing store, six restaurants and a handful of other complementary, noncompeting businesses that will attract shoppers.

After what will be a complete renovation of the long-dormant concrete building, only two original outer walls will remain. The front will be a glass facade and the interior will get new flooring, lighting, walls and fixtures.

Chirico praised the natural way the deal came together - through networking and without any tax breaks.

"The Patel family did not come to Naperville with their hand out," Chirico said. "They didn't come asking for incentives. ... It was done the right way."

  Swetal Patel of Patel Brothers Indian grocery stores takes the microphone from Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico on Friday to announce his company is turning the long vacant former Menards at 1568 Ogden Ave. into a new food store and shopping plaza. Daniel White/
  Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico says he's "so stoked" that the former Menards on Ogden Avenue, which has sat vacant for 15 years, soon will be the home of Patel Brothers Indian grocery store and several other shops in a new plaza. Daniel White/
Patel Brothers Indian grocery chain is expected to open in August in Naperville after the company bought a long vacant former Menards for $4.75 million. The old store will be completely remodeled into a grocery store and several other shops as part of a new plaza. Courtesy of city of Naperville
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