Racquel Fields is on a mission. She is the owner of 14 Parish Restaurant and Rhum Bar, an upscale Caribbean-fusion-inspired eatery located in the heart of historic Hyde Park. As a Rhum bar with 100 different beverage types, the restaurant offers “the finest Rhum experience in the city.” Additionally, its upscale dining experience also features a menu of Caribbean-fusion offerings, specially prepared by chefs with an eye on taste and presentation. Fields is a first-time restaurant owner making her mark as an African American female owner and restauranteur.
Tammy Gibson: What inspired you to own a restaurant?
TG: Were there any challenges you have explicitly faced as a black woman and a restaurant owner?
RF: In starting a restaurant business, it was impossible to get someone to support the idea and brand. Everything we started was from our blood, sweat, and tears. It took several years of working 18 hours a day, six days a week, to get to a point where we grew the business strong enough to be considered by banks. Another thing that was challenging is that I am working to build a world-class brand.
We are one of a few rum bars in the City of Chicago and throughout Illinois. Being a snot-nosed kid from the Southside of Chicago, few people in your direct community reach out to give you that type of knowledge to support your goals. It’s challenging to find a mentor in the community that will help you get to the next level.
TG: Who has been your inspiration in the success of your restaurant?
RF: It’s been a combination of people. I want to make my family and friends proud of me. I want to build something that other young people can look upon and inspire them to become entrepreneurs. My inspiration has been my parents. They are my biggest cheerleaders and supporters. But for me, it’s about making a difference in my family and providing opportunities for those that I love to thrive in whatever they want to do in life.
TG: The black presence in the restaurant industry is few, especially owned by black women. What is your experience being in this space?
RF: We are in a unique time. My experience before 2020 was very different. I’ve had the restaurant since 2016, and I was invisible up until 2019. No one saw us. It wasn’t until 2019-2020 the black community pushed the world to see us, embrace the black culture and promote black businesses. I give props to Jeremy Joyce with Black People Eats. As a community, I can say that our rallying together is paramount to our success. The black community has pushed and propelled black-owned and black women’s restaurants to a new level.
TG: Why was it vital for you to have your restaurant on the south side of Chicago?
RF: Because the community deserves a nice restaurant. We shouldn’t have to go outside our community to have hand-crafted cocktails, quality dining, feel safe, and have a good time in a predominately black space supporting our business and us being able to give back and create an experience for our customers. I was raised in Hyde Park, went to Kenwood Academy, and it was important that I have my restaurant in the neighborhood that I love and grew up in.
TG: How did you keep your restaurant afloat during the pandemic?
RF: We constantly pivoted. We didn’t know what we were going to be hit with. I got support from my landlord. They did a lot of big orders with us to make sure we stayed open.
Once we were able to open our doors, the community was there in droves. The community made sure we stayed afloat. There were some roadblocks. Being a black-owned business, we don’t get access to financial banking tools. When the Small Business Association opened up to us, we didn’t know to take advantage of or understand what they required. It took some time to understand the process. Eventually, we were able to get assistance from the Small Business Association and Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help us get through the pandemic.
TG: What do you love about being a restaurant owner?
RF: My favorite part of being a restaurant owner is when you expose somebody to something new. It’s something about people tasting something they never tasted before, having a cocktail, and learning about the history of rum. It’s inspiring and exciting to hear a customer at my restaurant say, “Oh my god, this is the first time I had something like this.”
TG: What advice would you give to aspiring black entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry, especially women?
RF: Don’t accept no as the final answer. As a black woman in business, we hear that word a lot. So if someone tells you no, make them prove it.
14 Parish Restaurant and Rhum Bar is located at 1644 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL 60615. To view the website, go to www.14parish.com/.
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelHr