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Local enters the boardroom

Cassie Pence

Move over Ryan Sutter, there’s a new reality TV star in town.Raj Bhakta, managing partner of the Holiday Inn in West Vail, will appear on the second season of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” starting Sept. 9. Starring Donald Trump, the reality-competition show tests business savvy to win a job with the Trump Organization and a hefty six-figure salary.”One of the most fascinating, distinctive things that Raj has is his paradoxical nature. When you first meet him, you might get this idea that he’s 28 going on 80. He’s very old-fashioned in terms of traditional constructs, but at the same time he’s a guy who will ride his Harley Davidson 130 miles per hour through Wyoming, will ride wild horses with me in Colombia in the jungle, but all the time wearing a bow tie with a walking cane,” said Henry Harper-McCausland, who met Bhakta in boarding school in Philadelphia and has been friends ever since.

Bhakta’s bow tie and cane serve as his trademark; he’s been wearing the bow tie since the 11th grade. The bow tie is a nod to Winston Churchill, Bhakta’s idol. He also has a penchant for Napoleon Bonaparte, yet another world leader known for his oversized ego. Harper-McCausland said at 16 Bhakta could recite Napoleon’s speeches.”For him, it’s the elegant and proper way that a man should garb himself. It is his belief that it is the right way to look,” said Harper-McCausland, who also roomed with Bhakta in college in Boston.The bow tie isn’t the only trait Bhakta shares with Churchill. Bhakta too has a healthy-sized ego.”If he was running for office would I vote for Raj? Yes. Is he full of himself at times? Yes, but he will be the first to tell you that,” said Scott Bucy, owner of Bull Crabs, the Texas roadhouse with a mechanical bull located in the hotel that Bhatka manages. Bucy has spent many a night sharing a beer or two with Bhatka.

Bhakta ran for Vail Town Council in December 2003, but withdrew his candidacy due to difficulties in documenting his residency as requested by the Town Charter. He had planned a campaign based on “positive bias” for small businesses, as well as bringing “common sense approach to government.””He’s obsessed with things that relate to the national interest to the country, and keeping the United States as the most powerful country in the world and the most successful democratic institution on the global theater,” Harper-McCausland said.Bhakta’s patriotism stems from his father, Bharat, who immigrated from India to the United States. His mother is from Ireland. Living the American dream, his family ran a successful used car dealership in Florida for many years and now owns a string of hotels on the East Coast. “Raj is a pretty boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he’s very intelligent,” Bucy said.



Bhakta was the one that approached Bucy, also owner of the Italian eatery Bagali’s in West Vail, about opening up a restaurant in the hotel. It was his idea to have a mechanical bull, Bucy said.”We were trying to think of a theme that Vail didn’t have,” Bucy said. “He had ridden a bull in Los Angeles. He said he broke his finger on the damn thing, but it was the hottest restaurant bar on sunset strip.”Although Harper-McCausland claims Bhakta will challenge anyone to ride the bull and win, Bucy said Vail Valley’s newest reality TV star is not the bull-riding champion. It must be that Napoleon-size ego speaking for Bhakta’s cowboy skills.”The Apprentice” official watching zone will be at Bull Crabs starting Thursday, Sept. 9. Bhakta will be there for the party, and he’s accepting any bull-riding challenges.


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