LABELLE – Hari’s Discount Liquor was honored as the 2023 LaBelle Business of the Year during the LaBelle Chamber of Commerce 2023 Membership Banquet on Oct. 2 in the LaBelle Civic Center.
Hari Patel was born in India and in 1986, brought his family to the United States, explained Master of Ceremonies Lamar Youmans.
“He landed in the U.S. with $20 in his pocket,” said Youmans.
Patel worked in convenience stores and saved up money to start his own business. After learning how to make pizza from a friend, in 1990 he started his first business, Harry the Pizza Man, in LaBelle. In 1997, he opened a convenience store with the pizza business inside the store. In 2006, he closed the pizzeria and focused on the store, adding a large liquor selection. Patel’s wife, Sasha, daughters, and sons-in-law all help with the business.
Rep. Lauren Melo was the guest speaker for the event. Melo is the Florida House of Representatives member for District 80. Melo started her own trucking business in 1991 and built it up to 100 trucks. She still has commercial operator’s license and still has that first truck, said Youmans.
Melo said she has been a “stress junkie” since a very young age and understands the struggles that business owners face daily. Employees also have their own hardships, she added.
Serving as a member of the Florida House of Representatives isn’t any different from other businesses, she explained. “People will tell you what you want to hear. People will over-promise and under-deliver.”
She said the country is going through some difficult times. “I don’t believe these times are unique to our country,” she added.
Since the chamber is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Melo cited some changes. 60 years ago, the average new house cost $12,500. The average annual income was $5,556. The average monthly rent was $110. Gas cost 28 cents a gallon and the average price of a new car was $3,125.
In the news, the John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of World War III and polio vaccine was given to millions of children.
“Today, while things are different, in many ways they are still the same,” Melo said, noting people are still talking about Cuba, vaccines and the threat of war. She said we can learn from the past.
“When we stand together, we can overcome any obstacle,” said Melo.
Chamber President Jessi Zubaty gave the president’s report. She said the chamber added 37 new members in the past year. In May, the chamber’s second annual golf tournament raised money for scholarships for high school students to continue their education through the Workforce Development Program. She said the 2024 golf tournament is planned for May 17, 2024. They hope to raise funds for a scholarship for a high school student and a scholarship for an adult.
Zubaty said the Chamber’s Night on the Town will kick off Swamp Cabbage Week in February. They plan to move it to the wharf so there is more room. Chamber member businesses are welcome to have booths at the event.
Seven members of the Chamber Board of Directors who were re-elected were sworn in at the event: Jessi Zubaty, Ron Zimmerly, Kevin Nelson, Jill Cabai, Dania Vetten, Barbara Gallegos and Michelle Brunetto. Other board members recognized were: Amanda Nelson, Lamar Youmans, Terri Marsh, Matt Germain, Betsy Shutte and Jennifer Rodriguez (not present).