14 Parish Restaurant and Rhum Bar, an upscale Caribbean fusion restaurant in Hyde Park
Racquel Fields is on a mission. She owns 14 Parish Restaurant and Rhum Bar, an upscale Caribbean fusion inspired restaurant located in the heart of historic Hyde Park. As a rum bar with 100 different types of drinks, the restaurant offers “the best rum experience in town”. Plus, its upscale dining experience also features a menu of Caribbean fusion dishes, specially prepared by chefs who care about taste and presentation. Fields is a first-time restaurant owner who is making her mark as an African-American owner and restaurateur.
Tammy Gibson: What made you decide to own a restaurant?
Racquel fields: I have always been interested in starting a business. My favorite thing in the world to do is take ideas from concept to completion. So I reached out to a friend, Tim Bradshaw from Jamaica, and we created a Caribbean fusion restaurant committed to bringing a bit of heaven into everyday life.
TG: Were there any challenges that you explicitly faced as a black woman and a restaurateur?
FR : When starting a restaurant business, it was impossible to find someone to support the idea and the brand. Everything we started was with 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 developed the business strong enough to be considered by the banks. Another thing that was difficult was that I am working to build a world class brand.
We are one of the few rum bars in the city of Chicago and throughout Illinois. Being a snotty kid from the Southside of Chicago, few people in your direct community approach you to give you that kind of knowledge to support your goals. It’s hard to find a mentor in the community who will help you take it to the next level.
TG: Who was your inspiration for the success of your restaurant?
FR : It was a combination of people. I want my family and friends to be proud of me. I want to build something that other young people can watch and inspire them to become entrepreneurs. My inspiration was 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 I love to thrive in whatever they want to do in life.
TG: The black presence in the restaurant industry is small, mostly owned by black women. What is your experience in this space?
FR : We are in a unique era. My experience before 2020 was very different. I have had the restaurant since 2016, and I was invisible until 2019. No one saw us. It wasn’t until 2019-2020 that the black community pushed the world to see us, embrace black culture, and promote black businesses. I give Jeremy Joyce props with Black People Eats. As a community, I can say that our rallying is essential for our success. The black community has pushed and propelled black owned restaurants and black women to a new level.
TG: Why was it vital for you to have your restaurant in South Chicago?
FR : Because the community deserves a good restaurant. We shouldn’t have to step outside our community to have craft cocktails, quality meals, feel safe and have a good time in a predominantly black space supporting our business and allowing us to give back and create an experience for our clients . I grew up in Hyde Park, went to Kenwood Academy, and it was important that I had my restaurant in the neighborhood I love and grew up in.
TG: How did you keep your restaurant afloat during the pandemic?
FR : We have constantly rotated. We didn’t know what we were going to be hit with. I got the support of my landlord. They had 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 roadblocks. Being a black owned business, we do not have access to financial banking tools. When the Small Business Association opened up to us, we didn’t know how to take advantage of it or figure out what it needed. It took a while to figure out the process. Ultimately, we were able to enlist the help of the Small Business Association and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help us weather the pandemic.
TG: What do you like about being a restaurateur?
FR : My favorite part about a restaurateur is when you are exposing someone to something new. It’s something about people tasting something they’ve never tasted before, having a cocktail, and learning 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’ve had something like this.
TG: What advice would you give to aspiring black restaurant entrepreneurs, especially women?
FR : Don’t take no as the final answer. As a black woman in business, we hear this 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 traveler and black history author. Find her on social networks @SankofaTravelHr