Faces of the International Marketplace: Meet Lakhvir Johal
Three values define Lakhvir S. Johal: hard work, good service, and honest business.
After moving to the U.S. at the age of 19, Lakhvir, who goes by Johal, worked hard to get to where he is today, but it wasn’t easy.
“When I came the U.S., I thought it would be easy. But to get here and get settled down, that’s more difficult. I didn’t go back to India for 12 years,” he said. “I was always thinking, ‘God help me, please don’t let anything happen to my mom or dad or family members.’”
Born in the small town of Sunpura in northern India, Johal grew up loving sports and working on his family’s farm, where they grew rice and flowers. Typically, as culture dictates, Johal would have been a farmer for the rest of his life. What he really wanted to do, however, was move to the United States and study.
Arriving in New York in 1996, Johal stayed with his uncle, who told him he could spend years studying and paying for school or he could start working and earn a living. His uncle ran a television station called WSTV in New York and Johal worked there for income. He then worked at a 7-Eleven gas station for five years and later drove a limo and yellow cabs.
“I worked with the limousine 18-19 hour days, I drove that many hours every day. Sometimes 24-36 hour continuous with 15-20 minutes of sleep in the car,” said Johal.
Even at the 7-Eleven, Johal worked 14-hour days seven days a week. Clearly, he is not afraid of working hard: “I don’t like drinking. I don’t like to go clubbing. I don’t like to waste money.”
Johal’s one indulgence? He loves to go to the movies.
In 2007, while still a driver, Johal became a promoter for musicians and artists from India, booking them on tours throughout the United States and Canada. He said this was an easy “side hustle” in between trips in the limo or cab because everything was done over the phone.
When acts would come over for a tour, Johal sometimes traveled with them. This is how he found out about the India Palace restaurant and banquet hall in Indianapolis, where he scheduled a show in 2007.
Johal got married in 2015 and in 2016 he and his wife purchased India Palace, relocated to Indianapolis, and completely gutted the restaurant, remodeling it to the highest of standards. For Johal, it had to be only the best.
“That’s my challenge always,” said Johal. “If you do something, do it better, otherwise don’t do it.”
Purchasing the restaurant and banquet hall was a win-win for Johal, as he could also book acts to perform at his location without having to rent it. The performances would also bring attention to the hall as a rental space.
Being an honest businessman is important to Johal. He says that 50-60 percent of business is word-of-mouth, so it’s important that he treat all customers equally and fairly.
“My parents told me, ‘Stay honest with people. If you try to steal $10 from someone you will lose $100,’” he said. “Whoever walks through my door, I believe my God is talking to me. I don’t want to cheat my God.”
As for the restaurant portion of India Palace, Johal was excited to take on that venture. He said he loves food from every culture because he lived in New York and was able to try diverse cuisines, but he especially loves traditional Indian food. Johal takes pride in customer service and says that most of his customers come back again and again because of the service they receive.
Johal’s success has allowed him to care for his family. His parents now live with him, his wife and his three children – ages four, eight and 11. In Indian culture, it is often expected that grown children will take care of their aging parents.
“We believe when you’re a kid your parents take care of you; when they get older you have to take care of them,” explained Johal. “My dad is retired since coming to the United States. When we flew here I said, ‘Look, your time is over to work. Now I’m going to work.’”
Johal opened a second restaurant in the International Marketplace, a Pakistani eatery called Karachi Kabob, in 2019. He said he has never taken a day off from work in his life, which isn’t hard to believe.