A.J.’s Grocery sits on Woodward’s main drag as the sole grocery store in town. Owners Ashvin and wife Varsha Patel operate the store by themselves.
“It’s tough to be in competition with the bigger stores,” said Ashvin Patel, owner. “It’s easy to find help here in Woodward with the school kids, but just me and my wife are here.”
The Patel’s have been residents of Woodward since 1986 when they first took over the store. Prior to their arrival, Patel was working in Chicago.
“This [Woodward] is my hometown; I consider this my hometown,” Patel said.
Originally born in Africa, Patel lived his childhood in India before arriving in the United States at age 23.
“I wanted to move out of Chicago because of the kids,” Patel said. “It’s a better living and a better life in a small town.”
Patel learned about the opportunity to own the store through his brother-in-law who lived in Des Moines at the time. The decision for the family was easy and a positive adjustment.
“It was just a big change for us - cost of living and everything was way down here,” Patel said. “It was a good life for the family; we got two kids, one boy and a girl, and they’ve grown up here.”
The Patels took over the business, operating the local store Monday through Saturday. The business opens at 7 a.m. and closes by 7 p.m.
“It’s nice to have a hometown grocery store that you’re able to utilize,” said Woodward-Granger Superintendent, Brad Anderson. “It’s a convenience like no other.”
“It’s a tremendous service - it optimizes the local economy.”
At times the store sits empty, but the Patel’s are not moved by the quiet. They continue to work.
“The last couple of years me and her [Varsha, wife] have started taking vacations together,” Patel explained. “We started closing the store like three weeks a year, because that way we can enjoy our life.”
Along with catering to the store, the Patel’s raised two kids who benefited greatly from the community, Patel describes.
“We have a really good school district and both of my kids are doing well,” Patel said. “I gained a lot in this small community taking care of my family - that’s my biggest profit: my family came first.”
Inside the store, aisles line with a variety of food products. Food is ordered through a Supervalu warehouse, a supply chain and wholesale distribution, noted on the Supervalu website.
“People have supported me a lot and I do appreciate the confidence in me,” Patel said.
If a customer is seeking a product A.J.’s doesn’t have, the item will be on the shelves within the next week.
“It’s very hard to figure out what people are looking for,” Patel said. “Usually I ask people and say, ‘Hey, let me know what you’re looking for.’”
In the past, A.J.’s used to do a full line of steaks and meat products, but has since shifted to fresh hamburger meat and packs of meat.
“I still do steaks every once in awhile,” Patel said. “I do have some people that ask for it and I do cut steaks for them.”
Patel’s passion for assisting the community has not been limited to the aisles of A.J.’s Grocery, however.
“He’s one that’s definitely given back,” Anderson said.
Volunteer Firefighter, Lions Club member, At-Large City Council member, and now a sub-driver for the Woodward-Granger School District are all part of Patel’s titles.
“I have done so much for the community because I feel this is my own family,” Patel said.
Both enjoy visiting with customers, helping out those in need and also providing citizens with service.
“I’m 60 years old,” Patel said. “I’ve been in Woodward, Iowa for 31 years, and I’ve lived more than half my lifetime in Woodward, and I would like to finish it in Woodward.”