Pratik Bhakta for Asheville City Council

About Pratik

IN MY OWN WORDS...

I didn’t always want to be in the hotel business.  Growing up, my home was the motel and the motel was my home.  I had to mow the lawn, help with making the beds, vacuum, clean the toilets, sanitize the vanities, dust the furniture, fold the laundry, et cetera.  I did what my parents told me to do and I quickly realized that if we didn’t have customers, we didn’t have a home.

Let me start by saying, we were an IMMIGRANT family.  “We came with $8 in our pockets," was what my parents constantly told me while reminiscing.  I had no reason to doubt it, considering we couldn't make much in India.  We were called over on family sponsored visas and settled with my uncle (Dad’s oldest brother).  Suffice it to say, I didn’t know ANY English at the age of 6 when we came to the US.  I was enrolled in school immediately and I felt like a fish out of water.  Communication was a big problem and my dad would tutor me everyday afterschool and taught me my ABC’s.  After all, he was a science and math teacher at Gangadhara High School in Surat, India and was a champion for education.  Fortunately for me, I was a quick learner.

As we grew up, we really didn’t have a place of our own.  Since we migrated to the US in 1978 in New Jersey, a family of 7 (Mom, Dad, Grandfather, 3 older sisters, and myself), we were running small independent "mom & pop" motels but nothing of our own.  It wasn’t until 1984 that my Dad, with the help of some old friends, decided to visit a friend in Asheville, North Carolina, and stumbled upon a small 13 room motel.  With the help of friends and relatives, we purchased a place to call our own.  

My dad decided to sell our 13 room motel 3 years later, but he didn't yet have anything waiting in the wings.  We ended up renting a cottage from a friend who owned an much older motel.  For a couple of years, we were a family of 7 that needed food, clothing, and shelter, with NO income.  We were living off of our savings.  We made the dollar stretch as much as we could, by cleaning rooms for other motel owners at a very low wage.  

While searching for opportunities, my dad had a massive heart attack while traveling in California.  He required 5 bypasses.  Here we were, Mom and Dad in California, over 2000 miles away, 1 sister in Raleigh (NC State University), 3 of us in High School at Enka while also taking care of my Grandfather, with NO income and tons of hospital bills coming.  That was, by far, the lowest point in our life in 1988.  The good news was, my Dad was better and recovering.  A couple of months later, my mom and dad came back, but unfortunately without any leads or prospects for a business.

A turning point in our lives came a short while later, after my Dad had somewhat recovered.  He found a piece of property right next to an interstate ramp.  He quickly purchased the property with the remainder of our savings.  He asked friends and relatives to loan him some money and started construction.  It was for a 25 room motel.  However, his initial investment was exhausted during construction.  We had a partially framed stick building and no more money.  He didn’t know what to do.

Fortunately for us, he had made some American friends, that knew some local bankers, who then helped him secure a loan after seeing what was already completed, and received the additional funds from the bank to complete the motel.  That was the biggest gamble my dad made in his life, and our fortune had turned!  We were an independent motel and filling up on most nights.  We moved from nothing in 1978 to finally SOMETHING in 1989!  A place we could call ours!

Within that year, my dad was able to pay back the people we borrowed money from.  I was still working at the motel while going to high school and during the summer.

So here comes college.  I knew I was exceptionally well suited for Math & Science, like my father.  So Engineering was what I wanted to do, NOT the hotel business.  After 4 years of college, I graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, but I wasn’t done.  I applied and was accepted into the N.C. State University Graduate School.  I finished 1 year and had about 1.5 years to go, when my mother came to me and asked me to take time off.

My father had started building a 49 unit Days Inn, but his health, both physically and mentally had started to deteriorate, due to stroke, heart problems & diabetes.  My mother asked for me to take some "time off", so that I could help my father finish the motel and get it started.  

What was I to do?  The only thing a son can do, and that is to say “yes” to my parents.  I knew deep down, that there was a higher calling for me and that was to fulfill my parent’s wishes no matter what.  They had sacrificed so much for all of us and made sure we were clothed, fed, sheltered AND educated, that I had to put aside what I wanted to do, to make sure I took care of my parents.  After all, I am here because of them!

I took the project head on and made it my own.  I initiated change orders to the project and applied my life experience, intuition and education to it.  It was a success!  One year after we opened our Days Inn in 1995, I married my love, Yamini!

We did endure some rough times though.  My Grandfather, who would always be partial to me, passed away in 1999, but we were blessed the next year with the birth of my daughter Saajana, in 2000.  The worst day in my life came in April of 2003, when we had to let go of my friend, my hero...my father.  I felt as though the world no longer mattered, but worst yet was, how was I going to fill the void that my mother will feel for the rest of her life?  To this day, my father will always be near and dear to me, and I strive to make him proud every day of my life!

Since my father was no longer there, I knew that my family was going to now count on me even more.  I would not and could not fail.  We were later blessed with my son in 2004, and although it didn’t make up for the loss of my father, we were more complete.  My mom, loved him like she loved me.

In 2007, I became truly immersed in the hotel industry when I was asked to run for the Days Inn Franchise Advisory Committee.  I didn’t know what it entailed but I knew I had some concerns that we, as franchisees, all had in common.  There were 13 candidates and 4 seats available.  Among those were 2 incumbents.  I only knew a handful of people and I had no clue what to do to market myself as the top candidate.  So, the only thing I knew to do was to just talk to the audience on what mattered the most and to LISTEN.  I was pleasantly surprised to have the honor of serving in 1 of those seats.

I took my elected duties very seriously and was instrumental in helping resolve issues that pertained to the brand and continued to voice concerns from franchisees.

In 2012, I was elected as the North Carolina Regional Director for AAHOA.  I served the previous 5 years as an ambassador.  Appropriately, I have been very vocal on issues that affect business owners, both at the Federal and State level.

Meeting with Senator Kay Hagan in 2014

I am an “accidental hotelier” who has been blessed with success.  I know that a large part of my success is as a result of this great city and our people.  I am passionate about Asheville and I wish everyone in our city success.  I wrote this, because time is a valuable commodity and we don't always have time to meet or get to know a person individually.  Getting to know your candidates and their history is part of what a voter's due diligence is all about.  If you have any questions or comments, I welcome those.

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