“My dad worked in a restaurant when we originally moved to the U.S. I helped him open an Indian restaurant in 2003 with other partners. I was studying to become a banker, but destiny pulled me back to the restaurant business in 2007 when one of my friends shared an opportunity with me.”—Sonu Chandi
Moving to the U.S. with his family when he was 16, Sonu Chandi’s journey into business is the epitome of the American dream. Born in Malsian, a small village in Punjab, India, Chandi came to the North Bay in 2007. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in business and a minor in finances, he bought his first restaurant in 2007.
Today, he is the owner and CEO of The Chandi Hospitality Group, which he oversees along with his two brothers and his wife. He is the owner of four restaurants in Santa Rosa alongside expanding Mountain Mike’s Pizza into 13 more locations across the North Bay over the last 12 years. Despite his vast success among his business pursuits, he has no plans on slowing down. Yet, he still manages to balance his work life and his home life simultaneously. He’s been married since 2010 to his wife Ranjit, who he claims is his better half in so many ways through their journey. They have two children, Ruhaan, 8, and Gia, 6.
What got you interested in business?
My dad worked in a restaurant when we originally moved to the U.S. I helped him open an Indian restaurant in 2003 with other partners. I was studying to become a banker, but destiny pulled me back to the restaurant business in 2007 when one of my friends shared an opportunity with me.
How has being a first generation American affected your professional life as a businessman?
As a first generation American, we tend to work too hard and focus too much on making it to the next level. I remember dreaming that it would be great if I could own multiple restaurants one day. I achieved that goal a few years ago and now my dream continues to expand. I feel that happens with others, but it happens more with first generation Americans. I am working to really improve myself and to find a good balance, to have the patience to enjoy what I have built with my family, to take the time to instill good values in my kids, and strengthen my personal foundation with the understanding that success has many other meanings other then having a lot of money and businesses.
What was your first job in U.S.?
I started as a courtesy clerk at Albertsons grocery store in Walnut Creek and eventually moved up to become their bookkeeper. I also worked at Jack in the Box and I was a salesman in appliances right before I was able to own my own restaurant in 2007. I think each job taught me valuable lessons that I got to utilize over time.
Did you have a big family growing up?
Lived in a joint family in Punjab with grandparents and two of my uncles “chaachas” families, we had team of our own to play cricket on the streets. I have three brothers and one sister. I’m the oldest. Both of my brothers work in the hospitality business with me and I am thankful to have their support in this journey.
When the workday is over, what are you doing?
These days, I make an extensive effort to be home on time, so I can spend it with my wife and children. One of my biggest pleasures is when I see the excitement on my kids’ faces. We have been trying to help them learn to ski the last couple years. This season, they finally got the hang of it. It was amazing to be there, to push them and to be part of their joy as they learned.
How are you balancing your work-life with your home-life?
Taking more time to plan things in advance. Making sure that my friends-and-family time gets planned in advance. I truly enjoy socializing with my friends and family so I am always planning or signing up for things that allow me time to be social.
Do you think your kids will be as interested in business as you?
My kids are too young at this time, but my son is a big sports fan, more specifically basketball and the Golden State Warriors. I notice that he pays attention to details and notices things that can be missed by other individuals, but they are too young to determine if they will have interest in business.
What do you love to do outside of work?
Read. I recently read that a book can be your best friend because it allows you to learn from others’ mistakes, so you don’t have to make your own. I also love being active; running, biking, skiing and exercising. I exercise four to five times a week to stay fit so I am in the right frame of mind to utilize my days the best way possible.
What do you consider your greatest professional achievement thus far?
I would say building a business and expanding it over the last five years, while dealing with stop-and-go from the fires and the pandemic. We lost a site to a North Bay fire, but we rebuilt it better than before. That was a huge moment for my team. COVID-19 has added another extensive challenge. I am proud that our diversification and dedication is keeping us thriving while all these challenges surround us. I am blessed to use failure as feedback as well!
Did you have any mentors that helped you get where you are today?
I didn’t really have mentors in the past, but my current mentor for the last couple of years is Brett Martinez, CEO of RCU. He is always sharing the best practices as I continue to expand and change in these dynamic times for the local and world economy.
What’s your morning routine?
I have implemented a good morning routine by getting up at 6 a.m. every day and starting with some yoga and exercise.
What advice do you have for upstart business owners?
I would suggest that if you spend ample time reading and researching, some mistakes do not have to be yours, and you can learn from others who have made it before you. Also, knowing finances is the key to business success; it’s more important in the restaurant world than ever before.