Donut Shop Owner Perseveres Despite Tragedy

april 1, 2017

  Dipti Patel stands behind the counter of the Donut King shop on Lindsey Street after the morning rush. She and her husband, Sanjay Patel, bought the shop in 1994, when it was a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.

Dipti Patel stands behind the counter of the Donut King shop on Lindsey Street after the morning rush. She and her husband, Sanjay Patel, bought the shop in 1994, when it was a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA – The bell clangs as a customer pushes through the door.

“What can I get you?” the woman behind the counter asks with a smile.

The customer does not know that the woman’s husband has been in a coma for five years.

The customer orders a dozen glazed donuts.

The woman is Dipti Patel, owner of the Donut King on Lindsay Street in Norman, Oklahoma. In March 2011, her husband, Sanjay Patel, suffered a stroke at the age of 47 and lost consciousness.

The couple had been about to open a Mexican restaurant, a recent addition to the growing list of businesses they’d purchased since immigrating from India in 1990. Three donut shops, a convenience store, and a hotel.

  Sanjay Patel moved to the United States in 1987. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Oklahoma, and owned several businesses in Norman, Oklahoma before his death in 2016.  Photo courtesy of the Norman Transcript.

Sanjay Patel moved to the United States in 1987. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Oklahoma, and owned several businesses in Norman, Oklahoma before his death in 2016. Photo courtesy of the Norman Transcript.

Their twin daughters, Shaina and Shaila, were in 6th grade at the time.

“In 6th grade, they don’t understand much,” Dipti said.  “They are very young. They think daddy’s gonna come back. That’s what I thought; that’s what they thought.”

Before the stroke, Sanjay opened their convenience store each morning at 4am. He made his way from business to business as the day progressed. He paid taxes and franchise fees, placed orders and went shopping to stock the shops. Dipti and her sister-in-law, Jessi, traded shifts, working the donut shop on Lindsay.

After Sanjay slipped into the coma, the two women added his many tasks to their own to-do lists, quickly educating themselves on the details and daily demands of business ownership.

“We had to take responsibilities,” Jessi said. “Before, all the responsibility was his.”

After a year of daily hospital visits, Dipti and Jesse moved Sanjay to a nursing home, where he received poor care and became sick several times in the month he was there.

“I didn’t like the nursing home, because people are yelling for help in the nursing home and they don’t get taken care of,” Dipti said. “How are they going to take care of my husband if he can’t say anything?”

So, in addition to running the businesses, Dipti and Jessi brought Sanjay home to tend to him there, practicing what they had learned by watching nurses in the hospital: administering breathing treatments every four hours, turning him every two.

“We just had hope,” Dipti said. “I mean, the doctor told me from the first day, but I had a hope. My family had a hope.”

After five years, however, Sanjay remained unconscious. Dipti and Jessi were still working as full-time caretakers, managing multiple businesses, and acting as both mother and father for the twin girls. Dipti was faced with the hardest decision of her life.

He was in pain and she didn’t want him to suffer anymore, she said.

On June 7, 2016, Sanjay Patel died.

But his hopes for the future did not.

“All the businesses, he built that.” Dipti said. “This was his dream, so I don’t want to let him down. He wanted to give a good education to my girls, and that is my main priority right now, so they can have a good life and become happy. That’s all I want.”

Her twin girls will be studying biomedical engineering at the University of Oklahoma this fall.

Dipti’s advice to her daughters?

“If you work hard, you can do it,” Dipti said. “The main thing is that you have to work hard.”

Certainly, no one can accuse her of being a hypocrite.

Today, Sanjay’s family is finding a way to move forward. Since June, Dipti and the girls visited family in India and toured Thailand and Malaysia, a rather bittersweet indulgence. They hadn’t been able to travel for years.

“As time passes by, things are getting healed,” Jesse said. “Still remember him. Still miss him. But you know, we’re trying to give more time to the kids, trying to give more time to business, trying to pray more, listen more. Good things.”

Dipti echoed her sister’s faith in the future.

“Still, we are living, but we are not living like we used to be,” Dipti said. “It’s been six years and it happened like that, but you know, but we’ve never become normal again. It’s hard, but we are trying. And I think, with time, we are going to be okay.”

  The Donut King shop on Lindsey Street in Norman is open 24 hours a day. Formerly a Dunkin’ Donuts, the shop has been a town fixture since the 1970s.

The Donut King shop on Lindsey Street in Norman is open 24 hours a day. Formerly a Dunkin’ Donuts, the shop has been a town fixture since the 1970s.

  Beginning in the early hours of the morning, the Donut King employees make fresh donuts from scratch every day. Shop owner Dipti Patel said the sprinkle donuts are her favorite to make. They’re the most fun, she said.

Beginning in the early hours of the morning, the Donut King employees make fresh donuts from scratch every day. Shop owner Dipti Patel said the sprinkle donuts are her favorite to make. They’re the most fun, she said.