This story appeared in the February 2016 issue of Naples Illustrated.
Photography by Vanessa Rogers
Just before the sun sets on the waterfront, the guests start to arrive at the Port Royal home of Rocky Patel for a gentlemen’s night of whiskey and cigars. This is a rare evening at home for Patel, who is not known for taking life slowly. The former Los Angeles business and entertainment lawyer is constantly channeling his boundless energy into the myriad luxury lifestyle ventures he helms—including his eponymous line of premium cigars, two luxe lounges in Naples, as well as plans to launch a line of bourbon and rye whiskey and wine.
“Everyone says I need to slow down, but my mind is very active. As soon as I come home from a business trip, when I’ve slept only four hours a night, I’ll drop my bags, jump in the shower, and first thing you know, I’m out with friends or inviting them over,” Patel says. “I’m very energetic; it comes from my mother and grandmother. I can’t sit still.”
His driven nature suits his business demands. Though Patel resides in Naples, much of his life is lived out of a suitcase, a result of his relentless work ethic, tucked neatly beneath his subtle boyish charm and easygoing personality.
“I love the tranquillity of Naples,” says Patel, who moved from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles in 1999. “I love the weather, the water, and the people, who are humble and down-to-earth.”
His home reflects his colorful nature and dynamic culture, decorated in what Patel deems an “eclectic, fun” style. Asian, Indonesian, and Moroccan influences inform the decor, much of which has been gleaned from his global business travels. He also hints at his Indian heritage with pieces that include a pair of rare wooden chests in the dining room that, as Patel explains, are hundreds of years old and once sat in a palace in India.
While a stunning candle wall adds to the allure, Buddha figurines adorn the fireplace mantel. “They bring peace, tranquility, and good luck,” Patel says of the spiritual figurines. “They have a calming aura.”
Then there is the elephant in the room—literally. A massive mirrored mosaic elephant is center stage in the formal living area, reflecting the waning sunlight and casting a sparkling glow on the grand piano. It is a prop from one of Patel’s promotional videos, and he says it may only have a temporary stay in his home.
Those yearning to experience this decor vibe need only visit Burn by Rocky Patel or Cavo gastrolounge, both establishments located in Mercato. Burn recently marked its fifth anniversary, and Cavo opened its doors just a few months ago.
Tonight Patel’s guests will dine on a substantive selection of gourmet bites from Cavo, including Korean chicken lollipops, shishito peppers, and grilled octopus with artichoke hearts and fingerling potatoes.
Patel selects special English cut crystal glasses for those enjoying sips of whiskey. The old-fashioned glasses are family heirlooms, a gift from his grandfather to his mother to celebrate Patel’s birth. They are now a signature element of his entertaining endeavors.
“I absolutely enjoy cooking and love to entertain,” he says. “I don’t like being alone. I like having lots of people around—friends, family, work associates—so I spend a lot of time cooking, entertaining, drinking wine. I also enjoy the outdoors, playing golf, and boating and fishing.”
It is on nights like these, surrounded by his closest friends, in his private retreat, that Patel can truly relax and exhale. Tonight’s guest list includes friends, business partners, and his brother Nish—a group that comes together (busy schedules permitting) to catch up, have a fine cocktail, and enjoy a great cigar.
“I never lift my foot off the gas,” says Patel. “Everyone asks me why, and I guess it’s the fear of failure. Certainly what drives me is when someone tells me I can’t do something.”
Twenty years ago, Patel fell in love with smoking cigars as his own form of “meditation” and escape from the frenetic pace of his life as a lawyer. When he toyed with the idea of making his own cigars, Patel was bombarded with a litany of naysaying. The cigar business, after all, was dominated by Hispanic families who had long histories and name recognition within the industry.
Patel became more determined than ever. He says he visited 600 cities in 700 days, building relationships with retailers and consumers. Today, Rocky Patel is one of the leading boutique cigar manufacturers in the world.
Sharply dressed for this evening’s soiree, Patel pulls out a box of his namesake twentieth anniversary cigars and shares them with his friends, who have gathered outside for an always-breathtaking waterfront view at dusk with their cocktails.
Plumes of smoke billow into the night sky, as the men become animated in their storytelling. Far from the boisterous center of attention Patel personifies in his industry, tonight he is just one of the guys. He quietly soaks in the atmosphere with a puff of his cigar and chuckles at what someone has just said.
Tomorrow and the year ahead he will focus on Burn’s plans for expansion into six new cities, including Atlanta, Nashville, and Washington. There is also a brand of rye whiskey in development for this fall, a namesake Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Chardonnay he’s aiming to launch in 2017, as well as a bourbon whiskey he is forecasting for launch the following year.
But tonight is just about this moment—enjoying some of his favorite things with some of his favorite people.
“Every time I come home, I feel like I’m living in the best place possible in America,” he says.