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Columbia Restaurant

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History of the Columbia Restaurant

1905 - Columbia Restaurant is founded in Tampa's Ybor City by Casimiro Hernandez Sr.

1927 - Casimiro Hernandez Jr. takes over the operation of the restaurant. He is the 2nd generation owner/operator.

1930 - Columbia celebrates its 25th Anniversary.

1930 - Casimiro Hernandez Sr. passes away.

1935 - Casimiro Jr. builds the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa, complete with an elevated dance floor. The Don Quixote dining room is born.

1937 - Casimiro Jr. builds the Patio Dining room. Resembling a courtyard like the ones found in Andalucia, the south of Spain, it is surrounded by a balcony, with a colorful mosaic-tiled fountain with Columbia Restaurant Café, circa 1906, with the "Love and the Dolphin" statue in the middle. The statue is a replica of a sculpture found in the ruins of Pompeii. A retractable glass skylight was installed, giving the room a wonderful bright and sunny look during the day, and an enchanted glow at night.

1950's - Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. hires his new son-in-law, Cesar Gonzmart, a former concert violinist. Cesar was married to Casimiro's only child, Adela, who was a concert pianist trained at the Juilliard School of Music. Cesar & Adela are the 3rd generation owners/operators.

1955 - Columbia celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

1956 - Cesar builds the Siboney Room. It's a 300-seat showroom designed to showcase the top Latin talent of the time.

1959 - Columbia Restaurant opens a 2nd location on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, Florida. Today that restaurant is Sarasota's oldest restaurant.

1960's - Cesar and Adela's two sons, Richard and Casey, begin working at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. They begin with receiving merchandise in the restaurant & stocking shelves, working their way through all the different cooking stations within the kitchen.

1962 - Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. passes away.

1970's - Richard & Casey Gonzmart join the day-to-day management of the Columbia. They are the 4th generation owners/operators.

1970-2000's - The 5th Generation is born: Richard has two children; Lauren & Andrea (1970's). Casey has six children: Cassandra, Casey Jr., and Jessica (1980's) Charlie (1990's) and Christian & Marlena (2000's).

1980 - Columbia celebrates its 75th Anniversary.

1983 - Columbia Restaurant opens a 3rd location in the Historic District of St. Augustine, Florida.

1988 - Columbia Restaurant opens a 4th location at the Pier in St. Petersburg, Florida.

1989 - Columbia Restaurant opens a 5th location at Sand Key, on Clearwater Beach, Florida.

1992 - Cesar Gonzmart passes away.

1996 - Lauren Gonzmart, daughter of Richard and Melanie and the 5th generation family member, joins the company full-time.

1997 - Columbia Restaurant opens a 6th location near Orlando, in Celebration, Florida.

2000's - The 6th generation is born: Lauren has four children, twins Michael and Isabella (2001) Maximilian (2006) and Alexander (2008). Andrea has one child, Amelia (2009).

2001 - A brand new, 5000+ square foot kitchen is built in Ybor City. Florida's most modern, state-of-the-art kitchen is now in the state's oldest restaurant.

2001 - Andrea Gonzmart, daughter of Richard and Melanie and 5th generation family member, joins the company full-time.

2001 - Adela Hernandez Gonzmart passes away.

2002 - The renovated Siboney Banquet Room in Ybor City is completed.

2002 - Columbia awarded the MassMutual National Family Business of the Year award.

2003 - Richard & Casey Gonzmart inducted into the 2003 Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame.

2004 - Chosen "Our Favorite Romantic Restaurant" by the Southern Living Magazine's writers. Only nine restaurants in the Southeast United States were selected, and Columbia Restaurant of Ybor City was the only restaurant chosen in Florida.

2004 - The first brand new dining rooms built at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City since 1956 are complete; the Andalucia and the Familia de Casimiro. These new dining rooms were built in the space that housed the old kitchen. The Familia de Casimiro is designed to resemble a Spanish wine cellar, with space for private meetings.

These two new dining rooms bring the total number of dining rooms to fifteen, with seating for up to 1,700 people. The restaurant has a grand total of 52,000 square feet, and encompasses an entire city block.

The new kitchen and dining rooms were part of a $6.5 million renovation project preparing the restaurant for its 100th anniversary in 2005. Other completed projects include new state-of-the-art restrooms for men and women, renovation of existing dining rooms, new wine cellars, and a new, energy efficient air conditioning system.

2005 - The Gonzmart family and the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the restaurant's founding.

2005 - The Columbia Restaurant of Ybor City earns the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) Award of Excellence.

2005 - The Columbia Restaurant of Ybor City is named One of Southern Living Magazine's "Favorite Regional Tastes" for Spanish and Cuban cuisine.

2005 - Richard Gonzmart awarded the National Restaurant Association's "Humanitarian of the Year Award" for the State of Florida.

2006 - The Columbia Restaurant of Ybor City is named to the Golden Spoon "Hall of Fame" - the industry's highest regional award. This recognition is given to Florida restaurants that are named Golden Spoon winners consecutively over a period of time. The Golden Spoon award recognizes individual achievement and distinctive contributions at an established eatery. Columbia has been named "One of Florida's Top Restaurants" every year since 1967, the year Florida Trend magazine created the award.

2006 - Richard Gonzmart inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame by the Florida Commission on Tourism.

2006 - The Gonzmart family builds a brand new, state-of-the-art kitchen in the Columbia Sarasota on St. Armands Circle.

2007 - Columbia awarded the Celebration of Free Enterprise Award from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

2008 - Columbia's Original "1905" Salad™ named "One of America's Top 10 Best Salads" by USA Today.

2009 - The Columbia Café opens at the Tampa Bay History Center on the Riverwalk, Tampa.

2009 - The Gonzmart family and the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the restaurant's founding.

2010 - Named an All-American Icon by Nation's Restaurant News, one of only fifty restaurants in the U.S. chosen for this honor.

2011 - Richard Gonzmart creates two private label wines; "RG" and "Rusty" wines from Argentina. Rusty Red Blend wine is named after Richard Gonzmart's beloved German Shepherd, and the RG name is based on his initials. A portion of Rusty Red Blend wine sale profits will benefit the Oncology Service at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, and also the local Humane Society in each city where the Columbia's are located. A portion of sales profits from the RG wines will benefit University of South Florida Athletics and USF's Latino Scholarship Fund where Gonzmart has established the Columbia Centennial Scholarship to assist financially challenged, but academically excellent Latino students.

2011 - The Columbia creates a private label spirits line honoring first and second generation family members of Florida's Oldest Restaurant. Don Casimiro Classic Silver Rum was created to honor Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the "Don" of the Hernandez-Gonzmart generations who founded The Columbia in 1905. A fun-loving man, Don Casimiro soon became known for his foresight, generosity, kindness to strangers, good food and love of a great rum. 1929 ushered the second generation into the business, led by Casimiro, Jr., who carried on the dream and passions of his father.

Chacho Bourbon Whiskey was created to honor Evelio "Chacho" Hernandez, the youngest son of Casimiro Hernandez Sr. Chacho roasted coffee for the family business for over 55 years. Chacho, which is short for "muchacho" or "the kid," was known for his youthful warm-heartedness and zest for life. But his love of bourbon sometimes surpassed his love of roasting the best coffee in Ybor City. Chacho was legendary for the countless batches of coffee that burned while "enjoying" his whiskey at the Rex bar across the street from The Columbia. In fact, the coffee roaster caught the restaurant on fire so often that the family decided it was time to move Chacho and the mill to the corner of 21st St and 7th Ave., and built a firewall to protect the family business.

2011 - Richard Gonzmart is a man who believes in following your passions and living life to the fullest. He created an exceptionally smooth and easy drinking tequila named after himself to honor his motto: " Live Life with Passion!" - called "Screaming Richard Tequila."

2011 - The Columbia announces a partnership with Louisiana Shrimp Processing & Packing, L.L.C. in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, producers of Poor Pierre's shrimp. "The Columbia supports family-owned American businesses. We believe the finest tasting shrimp in the world are domestic wild-caught shrimp from the sustainable and pristine natural habitat waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gonzmart family is proud to announce our partnership with Gerard Thomassie's family-owned Louisiana Shrimp Processing & Packing, L. L. C. by using their Poor Pierre's shrimp in our century-old family recipes," said Richard Gonzmart.

2011 - The Columbia Restaurant has added grouper to their menu again at their six restaurants in Florida after a four year absence. "We took grouper off our menu back in May of 2007 due to overfishing, which led to the difficulty in meeting the demand for authentic grouper," said Richard Gonzmart. "According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, red grouper is harvested in the Gulf of Mexico, and the red grouper population is healthy and is harvested at sustainable levels," Gonzmart said. "We are proud to once again offer our guests classic and unique Columbia preparations of this delicious mild fish with five red grouper entrees on our new dinner menu," Gonzmart said.

2012 - The Columbia Restaurant Café opens at Tampa International Airport.

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