The Motel Patels Built Empires. For Younger Generations, It’s Complicated.

Gujarati Americans own over 60% of America’s motels. But, for some, joining the family business is too close to home.

GettyImages-906304574 motel patel
Sahidur Mir, 51, a green card holder from India, poses for a portrait in front of Wigwam Village #2, the roadside motel he owns in Cave City, Kentucky on July 31, 2017 (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


May 24, 2023


11 min

In 2011, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairperson Charlie Munger, among the wealthiest people on the planet, arrived at their company’s Omaha, Nebraska headquarters for an annual meeting. The duo answered a series of questions, offering their views on everything from China to The Great Recession. But, one particular response from Munger set the room in a flurry.

When asked about real estate, Munger, without skipping a beat, presented the Patel community as a prime example of success. “Those Patels from India buy all the motels; they know more about motels than you do. They live in a goddamn motel. They pay no income taxes. They don’t pay much in worker’s compensation, and every dime they get, they fix up the thing to buy another motel. Do you want to compete with the Patels? Not I! Not I!” Munger’s words came off as racially-charged rhetoric tinged with envy. Still, the commentary resonated, so much so that people continue circulating the clip on all corners of the internet. 

Since 1942, America’s motel landscape has become almost synonymous with its Gujarati Americans, who today own over 60% of motels across the U.S. But while family-run motels played a defining role in the community’s astronomical success, younger generations are choosing other paths, and redefining what it means to be Gujarati American.

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