Entrepreneur magazine defines a serial entrepreneur as an individual who continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses. That is a perfect description of Raquel Thomas, owner of The Gold Den in northeast Columbia. At one point, she was launching new and diverse businesses every year.
Thomas is a native of Columbia and a 2000 graduate of Dreher High School. She excelled at sports. “I had a great basketball career and volleyball career, so I'm a Lady Blue Devil,” Thomas says.
After high school, Thomas attended Coker College. “I played basketball at Coker College,” she said. “I stayed there for two years, then transferred to Virginia State University, which is an HBCU. I’m an HBCU graduate and could not be prouder.”
Thomas majored in business marketing. When asked why she decided to major in Business, Thomas said that it was pre-ordained.
“I think I was born this way,” Thomas said. “I remember being in the third grade, knowing that I wanted to wear a suit and dress up every day. I've always been attracted to business. As I got older, I started to understand how important entrepreneurship is for legacies and for your family and generational wealth. So once I started learning those types of things, there was no turning back for me. I knew I wanted to be an author, and I knew I wanted to own a business in third grade.”
Thomas graduated from Virginia State University in 2005 and got a job in the auto manufacturing industry. “I was a corporate manager, managing just the sales process. I covered pretty much the entire country. I was in California, Philadelphia, DC, Baltimore, Virginia — the entire Northeast,” Thomas recalled.
Thomas’ job was to teach auto dealers how to make more money. “We consulted with them and taught them how to make more money, how to market their business, how to read financial statements,” Thomas recalled. “We became business consultants.” During this time, Thomas earned her MBA from the University of Maryland. She also used her skills to open a janitorial business in 2012. “When I started the janitorial business, it wasn't necessarily a passion, but it was low overhead and a good starting point. It was something that, if it did fail, it just didn't cost a lot of money.”
But the company did not fail. By the second year, it grossed over a million dollars. Thomas turned the company to her mother to run. Although the janitorial company was success, Thomas’ corporate career started unraveling. She ended up suing her employer. Eventually, she settled her lawsuit and left the company after eight years of employment.
By this time, Thomas had a young son, and was uncomfortable with putting him in day care. So in 2013, she came up with a unique solution. “We settled, and I took the funds from the settlement and purchased my first daycare center,” Thomas said.
Eventually, Thomas purchased additional daycare centers. She also liked fashion, so that led to her opening an urban clothing store in the Washington area in 2014. And since she had eight years of experience in corporate America teaching high-profile business people how to make more money, Thomas also launched a business consulting firm.
In addition, Thomas opened a second urban clothing store in the Columbia area in 2015. Like her day care business, her retail business had a humble beginning.
“I wanted to do something to empower people,” Thomas said. “I created a T-shirt with a black power fist, and it had all the names of the young men and women that have been killed. We sold over 5,000 t-shirts. That kind of launched my clothing line and my retail business.”
When asked why she decided to launch new businesses in different industries practically every year, Thomas said it was a matter of survival.
“I realized that I was never going to be an employee,” she said. “I knew that in order to continue to be successful, I needed to diversify my portfolio. So I started doing that.” Thomas moved back to Columbia. Her local store, which closed in December 2019, was called DMR Fashion. It was located at 617 Lady Street.
“That project was cool because not only did we had a retail store, I bought the building,” she said. “I think as a black entrepreneur, we are never the owners of the real estate, and owning the real estate is so very important. So that project was huge for us because we bought the real estate. Now we rent the building out and we still generate revenue.”
Thomas’ latest venture, The Gold Den, was sparked by a conversation with a business partner. “She mentioned wanting a place to dance, and I’m like let's make it happen,” Thomas recalled. “I'm a right now kind of person. I started looking and an associate called me about this building. God is so amazing because this kind of fell into our lap.”
The Gold Den was developed as a restaurant where people can also enjoy dancing in a lounge-type atmosphere on the weekends. “My favorite color is black, and my partner's favorite color is gold. It speaks of royalty, so we fell in love with the black and gold theme. We knew that we were going to use the word gold, and we came up with Gold Den,” Thomas said.
Thomas and her partner then developed the menu. “We literally built a menu of things that we absolutely love,” Thomas said. “We don't have anything on our menu that we don't eat. We sat down with our cooks and cooked everything three times before we opened the doors.” The restaurant opened on April 30, 2019. Very quickly, The Gold Den became famous for its signature dishes, such as Chicken & Waffles, Shrimp & Grits, fried pork chops, T-Bone steaks and homemade spaghetti. “We sell a good bit of steak, but chicken & waffles and shrimp & grits are by far our top sellers. We also sell a lot of fried chicken,” Thomas says.
The Gold Den was doing well. But then the Coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants worldwide to shut down. The Gold Den was suddenly transformed into a take-out restaurant. “During the pandemic, we did carry-out only,” Thomas said. “We knew that parents would struggle financially to feed their kids, so we created a $5 menu. It had items such as chicken & waffles, spaghetti and fried fish. We ran out of spaghetti every single day. We got famous for spaghetti during that time.” The $5 specials proved to be so popular that Thomas decided to make it permanent. “We realized that people liked it, so we kept it going,” Thomas said. “Now we have it every day from four to six.”
Now that restaurant restrictions have eased, The Gold Den has reopened for inside dining. In addition, the restaurant offers catering services. The Gold Den staff is available to prepare take-out meals for your event. “For smaller parties, 50 people or less, all we need is a day or two notice. But for larger events, we need at least a week,” Thomas said.
The Gold Den also offers free event space for local businesses and community groups. Next month, Thomas is adding live music. “Starting in July, we're going to have poetry and live music, which will be a huge addition to what we do here. We want to provide a safe environment for the mature working crowd,” Thomas said.
When asked about her long-term plans, Thomas says that she would like to open more Gold Dens. “It'd be nice to open up several Gold Dens throughout the city,” Thomas said, “but the goal is to continue to support the community. Right now, we need each other more than ever, so our goal is to keep a place for our people to come and fellowship, eat, laugh, have a good time.”
Thomas says that she has a simple formula for success – hard work. “I don't think I'm much different than anybody else. I do the work that other people won't do. I think that's the biggest difference. I'm willing to do the work,” Thomas says.
The Gold Den is located at 110 Columbia Northeast Drive in Columbia. It is open Tuesday - Saturday from 4 p.m. - 9 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. To place an order, call (803) 569-6173. To learn more, visit www.thegoldden.com.