CA Huskies

Naresh Goyal’s passion for education

At the University of Washington, we are fond of saying that what you care about can change the world. Following your passions, investing in them and supporting those who share them is a meaningful and powerful way to impact the lives of others for good. It’s a sentiment we find many of our generous donors share and Naresh “Nick” Goyal, ’72, was no exception.

One of eight children born to a rural mango farmer in India, his journey to the UW and to founding the Goyal Family Endowed Scholarship was driven by a passion for education. We recently spoke to his son Varish Goyal to learn more about Naresh’s drive, the companies he built and why giving back meant so much to him.

Naresh GoyalTwo pairs of pants and six dollars—these were the items Naresh recalled bringing with him when he came to the United States in 1968. His father had mortgaged the family house and farm to send his son to live with an uncle in America. In this new country, while studying mechanical engineering at the UW, Naresh had an experience that would stay with him for life.

One year, Naresh’s father struggled to find enough money to pay for tuition. Naresh went to the registrar’s office to withdraw from classes but a person working in the office stopped him. They asked him to wait, and 10 minutes they came back with a piece of paper to sign, telling him he could continue his studies. Naresh had been given a loan, the UW had taken a chance on him, and now he could finish his degree. With a job offer lined up in his junior year, his education was a springboard into the next stage of his life.

Naresh was successful in his work, eventually managing a team of 40 engineers. He could have continued but his belief in the importance of education would set him on a different path. Like Naresh, one of his brothers had made the journey from India and was now living with him in the United States. Unlike Naresh, this brother wasn’t as keen on a college education. He was happy with the money he was making as a manager of a quick service restaurant. Varish said this gave his dad an idea. “My dad and mom came up with this crazy idea to buy a gas station and make my uncle work all day long until he hated it so much he’d give up and go to college.”

They followed through on their plan. Selling his wife’s car to scrape together enough money to make the purchase, Naresh and his family were now in the gas station business. It didn’t happen instantly, but his brother did go to college. By the time he did, the station was far more than a motivation scheme. Naresh was finding success and his business partners liked the way he operated. “He was really big on service and cleanliness, he really ran things well,” says Varish. “He was a volume player too. He sold more gas with less margin and that helped his company win. He used to say, ‘you can’t be the only one wearing diamonds, the people you work with have to win too.’”

One station became two, two became three and things kept rolling from there. The companies he sold gas for started giving him stations to run for just the price of rent and gas. He was now at a career crossroads, spending his mornings and evenings at the stations while working days as an engineer. Managing the stations was becoming so consuming that he worried he’d be fired if he didn’t quit. Making the decision to move to the stations full time was difficult but with it came more growth. Through the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, three gas stations grew to 30.

In 2010, the Goyals acquired the entire Bay Area market from a major oil company who wanted out of the gas station business. They now had 125 locations and a new company, AU Energy. Varish says it wasn’t because their bid was the highest, but because the oil company thought it was time to pay Naresh back for all he’d done. “They told him, ‘You never sued us, never caused us any problems, you were always professional, always a man of your word. If you said you would do it, it would be done.’”

There were other ventures too, including a drive-thru grocery store in the ‘80s and providing some of the Bay Area’s first Bollywood movie rentals. Loop Neighborhood Markets, where Varish currently serves as president, proved the family’s success wasn’t limited to gas stations. With more than 30 locations, Naresh’s drive to build lives on. In 2020, they piloted a cashierless location and were among the first to install sneeze guards and offer daily access to pay for their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group photo of five men in a restaurant

Naresh (second from left) with (from left to right) his son Varish, employee Nitin, son Sundeep and brother Rajinder.

Through both success and hardship, Naresh was guided by a commitment to humility and fairness, a belief that learning was always worth the sacrifice and, above all, a deep sense of responsibility to his family. He worked hard to repay the gift his father had given him by bringing his own brothers and sisters to the U.S. They would join him in his business, offering much-needed help and a support system when things were hard.

“I remember the first time I saw my dad cry,” says Varish. Coming home from a camping trip, the family stopped at one of the stations to check on business, only to find that someone had figured out their system of cash drops and stolen $40,000. Enough money that Naresh thought the family business was ruined. “But they came together, he and his three brothers and their wives in one five-bedroom house. They were all part of the business, all living together. They found new ways to do the work, completely changed the model and developed new best practices.”

Varish says, “I think the thing my dad was most proud of was that he kept the family together. It’s amazing to have eight completely different individuals working together for 40 years, despite their differences, and not having to buy anyone out.” Strong bonds and solid values were major contributors to their success, according to Varish. “My mom says, ‘Take a stick and break it. It’s easy to break. Now double it and try again. Every time you double it, it gets harder to break.’”

The story of Naresh’s successes isn’t one of solitary triumph but of the many people who joined with him to build something lasting. “My dad would always say he got lucky with his spouse. My mom did so much, so many things for the best interest of the family. He always said he couldn’t have done it without her,” Varish says.

Naresh never forgot about those who helped him along the way, including those who made sure he was able to finish his degree. “My dad was really, really dedicated to education, it was profound for him,” says Varish. “Some people get so impressed with their own success that they forget what it took to get there. That wasn’t my dad. He felt that his degree triggered his success and that started a conversation about giving back to the UW. He said, ‘While we can, let’s help those who helped us.’”

As in business, Naresh let his values guide his philanthropy. “He said, ‘If I’m going to spend money to help people, let’s help them help themselves,’” says Varish. Supporting the educational costs of an engineering student at the UW was a perfect fit. The Goyal Family Endowed Scholarship focuses on students who – without financial support – couldn’t attend the UW. It offers them the same opportunity Naresh had – to pursue an engineering degree and gain an education that will last a lifetime.

“He was always looking for opportunities to learn,” says Varish. “When he had the chance to buy his first station, he chose an area that wasn’t established, it was a growing neighborhood. He passed up other opportunities to learn a skill because once he learned it, he could replicate his success.”

Through it all, Naresh kept the idea of family at the forefront: investing in the businesses, thinking about the long term and caring for his team and community. It’s a tradition that continues today. “We focus a lot on our team members. We’re a family that looks after each other and we give back to our community because it’s the community that supports us,” says Varish. Thanks to that same generosity and care, a new generation of Husky engineers have the means to pursue their education and the chance to build a life where they too can pay it forward.