By Eric Barton
One summer in 2006, Raquel Case, daughter of car dealers Rita and Rick Case, did something unexpected. She moved to Nantucket and took a job in a restaurant kitchen. Until then everything Raquel had done was about selling cars. She was trained for the business, she went to college for it, and she started working at her parents’ company as soon as they allowed it.
But Raquel, before embarking on her goal to become a partner in her parents’ company, thought she’d do something a little off course. So she took a job at the Boarding House restaurant, getting paid $11 an hour working the kitchen’s salad and dessert station.
Halfway through the summer, the sous chef in charge of her station left, so the head chef promoted Raquel. She was now running an entire section of the kitchen.
Something nagged at her all that summer, though. It wasn’t just the pay and long hours.
“I realized, in the back of the house, you don’t get to see people enjoy your food,” Raquel says. “When you’re cooking at home, you see how they react to it, but in a restaurant you don’t get that instant gratification.”
Which is why Raquel likes selling cars, and why she came back to it after that summer in the kitchen, and why she is now a rising star in her parents’ company.
Raquel, 31, is getting a promotion from her role running the Fiat dealership to the new Maserati-Alfa Romeo shop in Weston. It’s no surprise, considering her pedigree. As a kid, Raquel and her brother, Ryan, learned about the car business during “Dinner Daily Recaps.” It entailed the kids and their parents recalling everything that happened during the day.
That sounds like something kids might roll their eyes at, but Rita Case says she had a strategy.
“It was never a negative,” she says. “Those dinner conversations were always, ‘Oh, man, you’d never believe what happened to us at work today.’ It was always about the positives. The kids would think, This must be a great business.”
Rita knew how that worked. When she was a youngster, her parents owned the local Honda dealership in Santa Rosa, Calif. They’d tell stories with enthusiasm and excitement about the business, which they grew from one dealership to many in multiple states.
The Cases didn’t allow their kids to work in the dealerships before they were adults – Rick says he worried they’d get special treatment. As adults, they both took jobs in the company, and now Ryan is assistant to the general manager at one of the family’s two Hyundai dealerships.
When Raquel came back from her summer in Nantucket, she worked for a year doing finance, just like her mom has always done, at what was then a new Smart dealership. She oversaw the shop’s conversion to a Fiat store and then took over as its general manager.
Her father saw the enthusiasm in Raquel that they tried to instill in her over those dinner conversations.
“She makes the workplace fun, and that’s important for the young people these days,” Rick Case says.
For example, Raquel decides monthly prizes by having her sales associates throw darts at balloons with the amounts inside. She’ll hire people with next to nothing on their resumes, such as the young man who had worked at only Abercrombie & Fitch. She trained him into a top-salesman-of-the-month.
“I look for someone with a good attitude,” Raquel says. “I can train the car business, but I can’t train the personality.”
In October Raquel will marry Greg Travaline, who rose from car detailer to vice president of Dadeland Dodge Chrysler Jeep and South Miami Fiat. (Asked whether they’re competitive about running rival Fiat dealerships, Raquel says: “Oh, of course. But not really, because I dominate.”)
Their wedding in Palm Beach will have a Great Gatsby theme, which was her dad’s idea. He took to Greg pretty quickly.
“They could communicate in car lingo on day one,” Raquel says. “They go off on their own and my mom and I are like, ‘Oh boy, there they go.’ ”
They’re going to Italy on their honeymoon. And not long afterward, Raquel and Greg will start their own version of Dinner Daily Recaps.