By: Nike Kern
Photo By: Merideth Garrigan
As the blueprint of Charleston continues to evolve, so do the business leaders at the heart of its escalating growth. Sunju Patel stands out as a member of this elite group of dynamic and upcoming entrepreneurs that are molding the city’s future through keen business acumen combined with a fresh global perspective.
With plans to open The Grace Hotel in the footprint of the former Grace Memorial Bridge between Cooper and Lee Streets in the next year, Patel is currently working with City of Charleston officials for approval from both the Board of Architectural Review and Zoning Appeals.
“Our plan is to work with local architects and interior designers,” he says. “Charleston architects are known worldwide so why would we go outside the city? The hotel will pay homage to the original bridge. We want it to be a permanent fixture in Charleston as it’s being driven by a dream of doing something special on the Peninsula.”
The nearly 200-room hotel will offer a chic boutique setting where remnants of the former bridge will be incorporated in some capacity. Combining cutting edge architecture with a relic of our past, the hotel will not only leave a permanent fixture on the city’s landscape but will be a prime example of both good taste and stylish design.
As the managing partner of the Greensboro, N.C.-based CN Hotels Inc., Patel and his two business partners are also working on opening two other local projects: the Hotel Towne Place Suites by Marriott, due to open in October, and The Courtyard by Marriott in 2017. Both will be located in West Ashley.
CN Hotels Inc. is a fully integrated hotel ownership, development, and operating company. Established in 1994, the firm manages high-quality hotels throughout Florida, the Carolinas, and Virginia with several top name properties such as Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Choice Hotels International, Wyndham Hotels, and Best Western International as member partners. In addition, CH Hotels is committed to serving owners, investors, and clients through creative, innovative, efficient, and disciplined service tactics to ultimately maximize profits.
A native of Gujarat, India, Patel attended high school in Bombay [now Mumbai] and then earned a diploma in Electronics and Telecommunications at SVKM, a top engineering college. He then moved to Melbourne, Australia, in 1997 to attend RMIT University and focus on computer science. It was then on to America in 1999 where he attended the College of Charleston. While at the College of Charleston he worked for his uncle, who owned a local motel, and he hasn’t looked back. “Indians are known to be driven, hard, and passionate workers,” explains Patel. “From my start as a night auditor at my uncle’s motel to my current projects, I attribute all my success to my drive and family support.”
Patel enjoys doing business in Charleston and considers himself lucky to be in one of the most high-barrier markets in the country. “It protects the city’s long history and culture,” he explains. “We could use a little help with the process and I wish there were more departments to handle different levels of projects to expedite the service which would show appreciation to the people who are investing in this beautiful city, once they meet the criteria.”
A impeccable dresser and fan of single malt Scotch, Patel is also an avid cricket player and plays for a semi-professional cricket club, the Charleston-based U.S. Tigers Cricket Club, where he has served as team captain. But, his heart is with his 10-year-old daughter, Simi, who lives in Chicago. “I truly have no complaints or challenges doing business in Charleston as it has given me everything I have today at the age of 39, including the most amazing thing that has happened to me, my daughter, Simi,” Patel says.
Patel acknowledges that Charleston has not always been a city that provided opportunities for newcomers. He notes that there was a lack of variety in terms of prospects for investments that serve as drivers for investors. “But, today the dynamics of Charleston have completely changed,” Patel says. “We’re the number one city in America for the last five years and number two in the world for tourism, in addition to being one of the fastest-growing tech cities in the country along with the automobile industry beginning to make its mark.”
Believing it’s the people that make Charleston great, Patel’s business motto reads: “Dream big, work hard, stay focused, and surround yourself with good people.”