Uka Solanki, founder of Big Saver Foods, passed away unexpectedly Saturday, Sept. 8, at the age of 74 from complications of a lung disease.
Mr. Solanki was born in a small, rural city in the state of Gujarat, India, in 1944. Even as a young man, Mr. Solanki was an entrepreneur, working in businesses as diverse as sugar cane, livestock, and cotton, before attending the University of Gujarat and earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Nearing graduation in India, he earned admission to the University of Southern California and moved to Los Angeles in 1970 at the age of 26. As a young immigrant in the 1970s with only a few borrowed dollars, he struggled in those early years, often working two jobs while earning his degree.
Mr. Solanki and a partner bought a drive-through dairy in the South Bay in 1973 as a means to support themselves and as a path to citizenship. But that business would become the precursor to Big Saver Foods, which Mr. Solanki founded with his wife, Nalini Solanki, in 1976.
Over the course of 42 years as the owner and operator of Big Saver Foods, Mr. Solanki employed hundreds of people, operated 15 locations, and gave back through a variety of charities to the communities that they served. Beyond his business success, Mr. Solanki was most proud, professionally, of the Uka Solanki Foundation, which provides support to numerous organizations in Southern California and his native India. Through the Mr. Solanki Foundation, Mr. Solanki was an active supporter, board member and volunteer for numerous organizations, including a medical camp he helped found that provides free medical services in his hometown of Upleta, a girl’s school in Gujarat that educates 1,200 underprivileged girls each year, the Yadunandan Center for India Studies at Cal State Long Beach that host lectures and helps exchange students, and numerous other organizations.
“Yesterday I lost a close friend and valuable business associate, Uka Solanki,” wrote Peter Hui, chairman of the board of First Choice Banks, where Mr. Solanki was a board member. “Uka joined the First Choice family in 2012, initially becoming a member of the board of directors of First Choice Bank, and then in 2017 joining the board of First Choice Bancorp.
“Mr. Solanki demonstrated the resilience of first generation immigrants, the courage to overcome challenges, the dedication in building dreams. His contribution and persistence in grooming the next generations, in creating hope for the under-privileged are golden lessons for us to duplicate and memories to treasure. Mr. Solanki’s passing is a great loss to our First Choice family and the community. While his presence will be sorely missed, his legacy lives on.”
Mr. Solanki is survived by his wife of 46 years, daughter Jyoti Kelly (son-in-law Luke, grandson Jaan, and granddaughter Arya), daughter Pratima, daughter Kavita Huerta (son-in-law Jose, grandson Eric, granddaughter Sarah, and grandson Adam), son Harish and son Dharam Dave.
The funeral and viewing will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, at Forest Lawn, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068.