From Gujarat to Lakeshore: Living the American Dream

by the Patel family – In Gujarat, India, Jessie’s family tended to a sugarcane and rice farm, which may help explain why she still loves working in her garden. In 1974, when still a teenager, she emigrated to the United States along with her parents and four siblings in search of better economic opportunities and a better quality of life. The family began its new life in a one-bedroom hotel room on Market Street in San Francisco. Jessie immediately enrolled in ESL classes with her dad and older sister. She also started her first job cleaning grills for McDonald’s at night for $2/hour to help support the family of six (eventually becoming a cashier) and then briefly worked as a temp for Pacific Securities Depository Trust Company. The family then moved to Fresno for a few years, where they worked at a motel doing laundry and maintenance.

Five years after moving to the U.S., Jessie returned to India for the first time. There, she met Max Patel and they married.

Max and his sisters – circa 1960

Max, the youngest of four children, was raised by his single mother after his father’s death shortly after he was born. A widow at twenty-eight with four young kids, the family faced poverty and struggled to make ends meet. However, Max’s mom and elder sisters made it their mission to support his education as a means to provide a better life for the family. These early experiences left a lasting impression on Max – anyone who knew him knew how frugal he was and how much he valued education. Max also came from a farming family and his love of agriculture led him to pursue the subject in school. When Max met Jessie, he had just earned his M.A. in Plant Pathology, finishing at the top of his class, and was excited to continue in the field in the United States.

Max was able to come to the U.S. soon after he and Jessie were married (at 23) and they briefly settled in San Francisco. Max immediately started seeking opportunities in agricultural research and, to that end, he and Jessie traveled across the country in a Greyhound bus, staying with relatives and friends along the way and searching for jobs across the Midwest. Unsuccessful after many months, while in Texas, Jessie called her former boss at the Pacific Securities Depository Trust Company in San Francisco and asked if there were any openings. Fortunately there were, so Max and Jessie moved back to San Francisco and settled in a studio on the corner of Jones and Ellis in S.F. The family has resided in the Bay Area ever since.

Pacific Securities – 1983
Imperial Liquors – 1988

Jessie continued to work at the Pacific Depository Trust Company as a clerk, while Max temped at various places in San Francisco, including a short-lived gig bussing tables at The Grotto in Fisherman’s Wharf. By this time they had Ami, their first child, and Max was working late into the night while taking care of her during the day. They eventually saved up enough money to start looking for better opportunities including an investment in a rental property in S.F. and another in an Ohio motel that turned out to be unsuccessful. They first got into retail when Max was walking around S.F. and noticed a shuttered convenience store. He inquired with the city, submitted an offer to the owner, and started his own business in 1988 – Imperial Liquors on Ellis Street.

In 1990, Jessie was laid off when the Trust company went out of business, so the couple began seeking other opportunities. Max went to a City of Oakland auction and, sight unseen, placed a bid on Buckingham Wine and Spirits. He won. While Jessie managed the shop in S.F., Max commuted to Buckingham. By this time, they had a second daughter, Mira, and were also caretakers for Jessie’s dad and Max’s mom in their one-bedroom apartment. In 1992, the family (with a son, Raj, on the way) moved to the East Bay.

Max, Mira, Jesse at Buckingham
With Raj, Adventure Toys Grand Opening

In 1995, they jumped at the opportunity to purchase the building that then housed Buckingham, See’s Candies on one side and David Thompson’s photography studio on the other. The following year, they purchased Lakeshore Toyhouse just up the block which they continued operating until 1997, at which point they reopened in the former photography studio with a new name, Adventure Toys and Learning Center. Bay-Made currently leases the old See’s Candies space. In 1998, they sold Imperial Liquors in S.F. to Max’s sister and focused their attention on Adventure Toys and Buckingham. 

The couple managed Adventure Toys and Buckingham together, while making sure their kids went to school and eventually college. Since Max’s passing in 2014, Jessie has continued to manage Buckingham and Adventure Toys with the help of her children, who all reside in the Bay Area.

All three children are pursuing successful careers. Ami has a MPH and works in Health Care. Mira has a M.S. in Chemical Engineering and works in biotech. Raj has a B.A. in Statistics and works for a tech company.

Mira, Ami, Jessie, Raj

(Fun fact: Buckingham Wine and Spirits was first established in 1975 at 3319 Lakeshore [most recently Izek Spa Salon] but had moved to its present location before Max bought it in 1990. There’s some indication that Dolphin Liquors, which predated Buckingham and was across the street in the space CVS recently vacated, may have been operated by the same owners.)



2 responses to “From Gujarat to Lakeshore: Living the American Dream”

  1. Richard Weiss and Patricia Davis Avatar
    Richard Weiss and Patricia Davis

    Jessie, thank you for sharing your amazing story with us. Max was such a nice person, and I remember he always had either NPR or an A’s game playing on the radio. I love your shop and I’m so glad you’re part of the neighborhood.

  2. Ken Katz Avatar

    I may not be one of Buckingham Wine and Spirits best customers but I’m the only one who contacted the City and requested a bicycle rack “where I really needed it” – directly outside their front door. Seriously, the Patel family has been a good neighbor from Day One. Max was a gem, who always had the radio on, playing whatever game happened to be on at the time and way back when, he was the first business owner to talk to me about the homeless issue in terms of his concern for their welfare – undoubtedly due to the circumstances under which he himself grew up. He is sorely missed. Jessie and his three children have carried on his absence and when the space opened up next door, they held out for a tenant that would be an asset to the neighbor and they couldn’t have come up with a better choice than Bay-Made.