24 May 2023

Former fruit picker takes over two major Griffith accommodation hubs

| Oliver Jacques
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Yogesh Bhatt

Yogesh Bhatt has worked hard to enhance his business empire. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

An Indian immigrant who first came to Griffith to pick oranges and prune grapes has taken over two major accommodation centres in the town.

Longtime Yenda resident Yogesh Bhatt is the new co-owner of the longstanding Original Backpackers hostel as well as the more upmarket Griffith Premier Suites, which he runs with his three business partners.

READ ALSO: Five minutes with Griffith home-based Laotian chef Paris Floyd

“We bought the Griffith Premier Suites [on Belford Road] business in November 2022, and the Original Backpackers [on Binya Street] on Valentine’s Day this year,” Mr Bhatt said.

“Cesar Cabrera owned this place [Backpackers] for more than 20 years, then sold it to us … since we bought it, I upgraded the furniture, the kitchen, the indoor sports room and next year hope to upgrade the bedrooms.

“Overall, we provide accommodation for more than 200 people; we are the biggest providers in Griffith. We also connect people who stay with us with jobs without commission and provide transport to get people to work if they don’t have a car.”

Mr Bhatt and his business associates, councillor Manjit Lally, Sanjay Surana and Pinkal Patel, now own more than 10 businesses in Griffith and Yenda, including supermarkets, news agencies and general stores, with hotels being their latest challenge.

Pinkal Patel and Yogesh Bhatt in front of hotel sign

Pinkal Patel and Yogesh Bhatt at Premier Suites Griffith. Photo: Facebook.

“We want to diversify our business, we don’t want all our eggs in the one basket. Our slogan is no pain, no gain, we always take risks … but we are there to back each other up.

“[Businessmen] Jimmy and Asli Acar helped me a lot in the accommodation sector, they taught me how to run things.”

Hotels are a lucrative business in Griffith, with accommodation consistently in short supply. Mr Bhatt said there are more than 130 people on the waitlist for rooms during the already fully booked June long weekend, when the annual Sikh Games are held.

“Premier Suites is more luxurious, while Original Backpackers attracts more of the party animals. But most people want to work, so we help them find something.

“I want to help all the businesses here, to make sure they connect with workers. I want to see more growth in Griffith.”

The 38-year-old entrepreneur is part of the town’s growing Indian community, who now make up just under 7 per cent of the total population.

“Indians have followed the example of the Italians here,” he said.

His story is similar to that of the many postwar Italian immigrants who came to Griffith with very little but worked extremely hard and prospered in the agricultural sector.

“I first came to Australia in 2007 as an international student, to Melbourne first to do my Masters of Commerce. I came to Griffith during the uni vacations to earn some money.

“My first bosses were Sebastian Raciti and Peter Raccenello – I did labouring farmwork for the first time in my life. I started picking sticks and rocks, then picked oranges and pruned grapes. My wife worked in the fruit packing sheds.

“I then got a job for Australian Frozen Foods – my boss was Tony Parle, he was a God to me, he sponsored me, that’s how I got my citizenship. I’m also grateful to the manager Biren Patel – eventually I got a job as a production manager.

“I saved up my money for years and in 2015, we bought Yenda Foodworks … then Barellan General Store. I worked there on the weekends, while I worked as a production manager during the week.

“Griffith is the best town in Australia for startups. It’s been a lucky town for me.”

READ ALSO ‘It tastes homemade’: Third new Indian restaurant opens in Griffith in three months

The tough slog hasn’t stopped for Mr Bhatt, who still works 12 hours a day, while seeking out further business opportunities.

“My target is to be semi-retired by the time I’m 53. I’d like to travel around Australia and then the world. I want to keep aside something for my children.”

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