2020 Top Florida Latino Lideres Award Recipient
Rafael J. Feliciano is a Latino Mover N’ Shaker from South West, Florida.
Latin Times Magazine: Where are you and your family from? What is your Hispanic heritage? Rafael J. Feliciano: I was born in Manhattan, NY, and was raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey. My father is Puerto Rican from El Yunque. My mother is a Filipina. Our family has been in SWFL since 2002. Came down for the weather, stayed for the beaches. After high school, I had the opportunity to go back North, but here became home. This is where I wanted to plant my roots.
Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about what you do for a living and how you got into it Rafael J. Feliciano: I eat for a living, seriously. I dropped out of college in 2011 because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so like a lot of kids my age, I became a bartender. I figured it was a way to meet people and make extra cash. Little did I know that entering hospitality would change my life forever. Over the next few years, I worked my way up to Corporate Trainer and traveled the U.S. to failing restaurants to hire, fire, and build them up to successful standards. The highlight of my travels was experiencing food from all over, tasting the diversity and culture each city represented. When I came back to SWFL in 2014, I was excited to see what home had to offer. Disappointed in how much our food scene lacked, instead of running and moving to a bigger city, I decided to stay and take on the challenge. Making the area a staple destination for food and beverage was the goal. That void created an opportunity and in 2015 I started the event Restaurant Week locally to SWFL. As that grew, the next venture was creating a marketing & PR agency dedicated to restaurants, chefs and our own food events. Fast forward to today, we’ve incorporated a staffing & management placement agency, 2 non-profits that give back to both hospitality employees and students pursuing careers in hospitality, and I became a partner in my first restaurant. The eating really never stops!
Latin Times Magazine: In your industry, what would you say separates you from your competition Rafael J. Feliciano: 2 very important reasons are what allows us to stand tall above the rest of our competition. First, we are a hyper-niche business that’s only focused on food, beverage, and hospitality as a whole. We know that if the hospitality industry is thriving, that means the local economy is thriving as well. We recognized this early on and never steered off course. Second, we are what is considered to be a “social entrepreneurship business”. Regardless of profit margin, scope, or arena, everything we do has some give-back element to the community. From education to mental health, we align ourselves with the right local non-profits and encourage our partners and clients to do the same.
Latin Times Magazine: During Covid-19, tell us about your Biggest Challenge/obstacle and how you overcame it/or are overcoming it Rafael J. Feliciano: As devastating as Covid has been, the silver lining couldn’t have been more beneficial for both myself and our company. We lost clients and some months we barely kept the lights on. I was forced to look in the mirror and battle some big demons. However, for the first time in years, I was able to slow down without distraction and re-calibrate my goals both personally and professionally. In business, we were forced to adapt or die. So we pivoted. We tightened up our operations, thought outside the box to develop more revenue streams, dove headfirst into community outreach, and never looked back. The real challenge now is the uncertain future the hospitality industry holds, but regardless of the obstacles, we’re confident that we’ll do what we did before, reset + adapt + overcome.
Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about your biggest achievement, and how you achieved it (Covid or non-related) Rafael J. Feliciano: My biggest achievement has been making my parents proud. They’ve both worked so hard in their lifetime to support their children and family. They’ve never asked for anything other than for us to be good human beings and never forget where we came from.
Dropping out of college was difficult for them to understand, but now through my journey, they’ve reencouraged to start their own businesses. More than money, I’m able to give back to them with knowledge, wisdom, and encouragement. All things I never dreamed possible.
Latin Times Magazine: What is next for you? What can people expect to see from you? Rafael J. Feliciano: In business, the new company vision statement is, “A global dinner table of solutions, serving for better hospitality”. In 2021, we make a push on the national stage and hopefully take the right steps in becoming a global entity. Individually, I’d like to lose 15-20 pounds, learn jiu-jitsu, and maybe acquire some more restaurants. (laughs)
Latin Times Magazine: What words of encouragement can you offer? Rafael J. Feliciano: I’ve been told a lot of great things by a lot of great people, but most recently the quote that has stuck with me the most is “Only in chess should you announce your next move”. When times are tough and you hit a rough patch, stop. Don’t muscle through it.
Don’t allow the facade of social media to make you think people are moving ahead of you. Sometimes the best action isn’t an action at all, it’s clarity. Not everyone needs to know your goals and aspirations. Protect your ideas and protect your energy.
Latin Times Magazine: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share? Rafael J. Feliciano: I have a boxer-dog named Bourbon, I don’t like heights and when I was a kid my dream was to play shortstop for the Yankees.
Latin Times Magazine: What is YOUR comida Latina favorita? Rafael J. Feliciano: Pernil, arroz con gandules y tostones. Siempre!