Co-founder and CEO, Food Idea Group
Growing up in New Jersey with a Filipino mother and Puerto Rican father, Rafael Feliciano was surrounded by international cuisine and diverse cultures.
But he never realized the impact food had on his life until his family moved from New Jersey to Lehigh Acres following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He understood his family’s concern for their safety, but he missed traveling with his parents to New York City and the area and having any type of food one could ever want.
After deciding college wasn’t the right fit, Feliciano instead went into the food and beverage industry himself, starting as a bartender. He rapidly rose the ranks and became a restaurant trainer, where he traveled the country to help eateries get off the ground or to teach their employees new skills.
As part of his travels, Feliciano saw a business opportunity after attending several “restaurant week” events. He realized Southwest Florida didn’t have that, so he and his business partner, Guy Clarke, founded Food Idea Group. Now in addition to offering marketing and consulting services to area restaurateurs and chefs, the company has Sizzle SWFL Restaurant Week and Where to Eat 239, among other projects.
For one, Feliciano says they would like to expand the “Where to Eat” brand, which promotes restaurants on social media sites, by initially moving it north into the Sarasota and Tampa markets, and growing it from there. The businessmen are also planning a “Sizzle Spa Week” to focus on businesses offering beauty services.
Feliciano says one of the most valuable business lessons he has learned is mentorship can come from any person, not just those with years or decades of experience. Also, work with people you respect, he says. “I want to do business with people whose morals follow mine,” he says. “If you are trying to make a decision in business, you can fall back to your morals. If it doesn’t fit, don’t do it.”
ON THE RECORD: Rafael Feliciano
City of residence: Naples
Employer: Food Idea Group
Title: Co-founder, CEO
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York
Years on the Gulf Coast: 15+
Marital status/children: Single
Alma mater/degree: None
Where is the best place to network? Happy hour on a Friday
What's the best business lesson you've ever learned? Listen with intent and purpose. Entrepreneurs, especially young ones, we all have this chip on our shoulder to prove ourselves which sometimes results in talking too much. Establish self-awareness, ask the right questions, and let those that speak too much give you the answers to their own questions.
Also, when seeking mentorship, first start with your peers. Mentorship comes in many different forms. Learn from their battles, their mistakes and their successes. It doesn't just have to be from the established 50-year-old that's been in business 20 years. It can be your best friend starting a business or your neighbor working in corporate America.
What's your top tip for being productive? Time-blocking and self-care. First, time-block everything. It'll force you to prioritize what's important and teach you how long some tasks really take to complete. Worst-case scenario, it'll put the pressure on you to value your time more and find more ways to be productive.
Second, include self-care in your time-blocking. I learned the hard way that 16-hour days without any breaks and time to live isn't just bad for your health, but it's bad for business too.
What's the weirdest job you've ever had? Door-to-door knife salesman for Cutco.
What community group or organization are you most involved with? Florida Gulf Coast University’s Resort and Hospitality Management Program
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? When we started the business, I had all types of side hustles to make ends meet from real estate in the day to bartending at night. But if I could have one now, and the sky was the limit, I'd be a shoe designer. I've always loved shoes. From collecting retro Jordan's as a teen to finding the perfect double-monk winged tips for my suits now, it's a passion. Growing up, I was always taught how you present yourself was essential in first impressions. As I grew older, I learned just like a timepiece, an individual's choice in shoes can tell a lot about their personality.
What's your favorite off-hours activity? Now that collegiate sports is behind me, golf is a sport I've really dove into. Recently, we started working with Rocky Patel, so naturally, I've become fascinated with cigars this past year. That's been like learning a whole new language. I've also always had an appreciation for bourbon. I love learning about different distillers history and coming across new and rare casks.
What's your favorite board game or video game? Chess and Connect 4. The games you play when you're inside for a hurricane.
What's the top item on your bucket list? Cover of Time magazine. It's not about the magazine itself; it's about what it represents. It would mean that everything I've worked for and accomplished has made a difference not just in my community or country but maybe in one's thinking, which in turn could impact the world we live in. That's something I strive for. Whether it's philanthropy driven, in the political landscape or just a human being that wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo.
Where is your happy place? Locally, in a lawn chair sitting at the beach an hour before sunset. Naples has some of the most peaceful shores and utterly beautiful sunsets. Outside of home, Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. My family is huge sports fans, and of course, we're die hard for the Knicks and Yankees. I have so many memories from my childhood going to games or gathering around the dinner table while they were on TV. In our old neighborhood, people may have had their differences, but we all agreed on two things: Root for the Yankees and anyone that beats the Red Sox.
What's your favorite podcast? The Mike Dillard podcast
Who/what is your favorite musical artist/band? The old Kanye, Jay-Z, The Fugees
Who would play you in a movie about your life? Terry Crews
What was your first album/tape cassette/CD? "Life After Death" — Notorious BIG
What was your first concert? Busta Rhymes
What's one song that will get you out on the dance floor? "Suavemente" — Elvis Crespo
What's your favorite karaoke song? “I Want It That Way” — Backstreet Boys
What instrument/role would you play in a band? Guitar-smashing-lead-vocalist
Please describe yourself in three words. Unconventional, unyielding and unfinished