YBOR CITY, Fla. — Columbia Restaurant, a Tampa staple for more than 100 years, is looking to the past during these challenging times.
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The iconic Ybor City gem has withstood the test of time - enduring quite a bit of history since Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez opened the restaurant in 1905.
Four generations later, Richard Gonzmart can look to his forefathers and how they weathered the storms of life as he deals with the current pandemic.
“The lesson that we learned is you that you stick together and you support one another,” Gonzmart said.
From staying afloat during the Great Depression to overcoming food shortages during World War II - Gonzmart’s grandfather, Casimiro Hernandez, Jr., relied on friends to get through the tough times.
“I heard about the Great Depression. That’s the story that stuck in my mind the most,” Gonzmart said. “They sold twelve dollars [worth] in one day. Another day like that, they’d have to shutter the business.”
Thanks to a generous loan from a friend, Hernandez was able to save the restaurant & propel it even further.
“We’ve learned from that lesson and that’s what we’re doing. We’re taking care of our staff today and preparing them for tomorrow,” Gonzmart said.
Even so, Gonzmart says he knew a day like this would come - though he wasn’t expecting it to be so soon.
“I’ve been telling my daughter and my nephew that they would face a crisis that would determine who they were, whether we would survive, and I didn’t know if I would be here,” he said.
“Well my father’s always said history’s going to repeat itself,” said Gonzmart's daughter, Andrea, who helps her father run the family business. “And in a way, it is repeating itself based on what the Columbia’s already been through and I’m just so grateful that I’ve gotten to go through this with my father.”
As they write a new chapter in the pages of the Columbia’s history, they hope there can be some take aways for generations to come.
“I literally started a Word document and I started documenting how things were changing day by day,” she said.
Those writings will go into a book documenting the restaurant’s history — they plan on publishing it when the restaurant celebrates its 125th anniversary.
“[Andrea’s] daughter, the 6th generation, will know what her mom - even though she’s aware - but she’ll remember the stories that I remember, that Andrea remembers,” Gonzmart said.