When it comes to one of the stronger ways to impact a person’s life, it’s hard to beat the power of a memory. Richard Gonzmart understands that. It’s past memories that shape his life, and the thought of future ones that have him saying Vamos Tampa Bay!
There is history at the Columbia restaurant.
“This is the original bar, from 1905. There used to be a bar. Behind that. There was a little door. I have a picture of my grandfather in that room right there,” says Richard Gonzmart the President of the Columbia Restaurant Group.
Fourth generation and family run, Gonzmart says the restaurant group boasting 13 eateries started small with the Columbia Saloon in 1903 on 7th and 22nd in Ybor City. The 45 seats increased when his great-grandfather Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. merged with La Fonda restaurant next door owned by Manuel Garcia.
“They merged together and they struggled together,” says Gonzmart.
Since then the family has thrived with a spirit of innovation. The Don Quixote room was the first room in Tampa with air conditioning costing Gonzmart’s grandfather 35 thousand dollars in the middle of the great depression.
“How big of a gamble was that back then?
Well, my mother had told me that she heard him tell her mom, my grandmother, that if it didn’t work he was gonna have to blow his brains out.”
Now the restaurant has survived urban decay and grown from that small corner saloon to 15 beautiful dining rooms. The kitchen is the size of an Outback Steakhouse 6,000 square feet and adding 3,000 more.
As impressive as all that is, it’s Gonzmart’s innovation with people that sets him apart. He sits and has sat on dozens of non-profit boards and organizations. The Gonzmart family has 3 endowments providing 23 scholarships annually at the University of South Florida.
“So long after I’m gone, there will be people receiving that gift of an education that changes lives, that breaks the cycles of poverty,” says Gonzmart.