A SoCal Restaurateur Shares Her Philosophy For Running A Successful Eatery
If there's anyone who can attest to finding success in a leap of faith, it's Raquel Dorsey. Over three years ago, the Fashion Mamas LA member purchased her first restaurant with her husband, Andrew, and reveals that "there was a moment of us completely living on a prayer." Seven months pregnant with their first child at the time, Dorsey says that although they were now the new co-owners of SOCIAL Costa Mesa, "we had no idea how we were going to pay our apartment rent the following month."
In fact, none of it would have been possible if it weren't for a big developer forcing her husband's first restaurant to close. From there, a chance meeting with a future business partner sparked an exciting new opportunity. Then, miraculous moment led to the funding that they needed to stay afloat until they nabbed more investors, she reveals. Now a mother of two, the Southern California-based entrepreneur recently unveiled her second restaurant, Tower 48 Newport Beach, a modern deli with seaside views. In addition, she and her husband own a free co-working space, Second Home, located next door to SOCIAL.
Here, she shares the journey that led her from In-N-Out server to restaurant owner, the incredible story behind her two businesses, her best advice for those looking to open a successful restaurant, and the too-good-to-be-true discovery that made it all possible. Read it all below.
What are the names and ages of your kids?
Carter, 3 years old and Caden, 21 months.
Tell us about your career journey: What led you to where you are today?
My first job was at In-N-Out when I was in high school and I think thats where my love for serving others really blossomed. I worked as a waitress for a small Italian restaurant and while in college I worked as a waitress at Cheesecake Factory. I have always loved people, food and being a person who was able to make a dining experience really something special.
When I met my husband he had already owned a restaurant with his brother in Anaheim for two years. He was just 24 years old when I met him and I was so impressed by what he was already accomplishing in life. I fully believe I was meant to be his helper and soon picked up shifts at his restaurants. In 2014 while seven months pregnant with Carter, together we opened our first restaurant, SOCIAL Costa Mesa. And then on April 28 of this year we opened our second restaurant Tower 48 Newport Beach.
What sparked your interest in buying the restaurant at that time? Was there an "a-ha" moment?
Opportunity! Adventure! Shortly before we got married, a big developer in Orange County bought the block that my soon-to-be husband’s restaurant was on. They tripled his rent and he was forced to close up shop. Andrew picked up a restaurant consulting job and I was just a nanny and working in the children’s ministry at our church. Funds were really tight and I remember us not knowing how we were going to pay our home rent following month. Andrew legit ran into one of the original founders of Chronic Tacos and they both were interested in a restaurant that had just gone on the market in Costa Mesa. A few meetings later we had decided to partner with him in opening SOCIAL Costa Mesa. The only problem is we didn’t have any funds to invest.
This is going to sound crazy and it really was. But one day while seating on one of our couches I was rubbing my hand along the cushion and felt something like a plastic bag. So I pulled it out and it was a ziplock bag with an envelope inside. I asked Andrew if he put it there and he said no, so I pulled the envelope out to find $7,000 crisp one hundred dollar bills! It could have only been placed there by the grace of God because no one we know put it there. There was just no explanation!
That $7,000 helped to pay our rent and bought us enough time to create investors packets to send off to potential investors. Within a couple weeks we had all the funds we needed to open!
"The better way is to think, How can I make people’s lives a lot better?"
Did you always want to own a restaurant? What were some of the surprising lessons you learned during that process?
Yes! We had always talked about owning a restaurant together! We both have a love for food, restaurants, dining out, mixology, and wine. We learned what our roles were in business, parenting, and marriage real quick. I’m way more heart-centered — as I would give all the food and drinks away for free because I want people to be happy! Andrew is much more business-minded. He knows all the food costs and labor costs, for example. He’s brilliant at creating concepts and executing daily. We always talk about how our individual strengths inspire each other daily.
How did pregnancy empower you when you decided to purchase the restaurant?
Pregnancy inspired and empowered me in so many ways. I felt this blossoming of sorts happening to not just my body but my mind. I understood myself better. I trusted myself more. I really loved being pregnant and never felt more "me" than ever before.
You're also quite the healthy foodie — Do you have any tips for whipping up a nutritious meal for kids in a pinch?
Always have healthy snacks on hand and within reach. My boys are snackers and I totally encourage their independence by making sure apples, oranges, bananas, and berries are within their reach on a lower shelf. I always have nuts in the pantry and I have cut veggies in the bottom drawers for them to grab. It’s "fast food" that I don’t feel guilty about! But don’t get me wrong, we have a mother/sons date at In-N-Out once a week!
For others interested in restaurateurship, what's your advice for those who are diving in head first like you did?
This quote by Richard Branson is perfect: Some entrepreneurs think, How can I make a lot of money? But the better way is to think, How can I make people’s lives a lot better? If you you get that right, the money will come.