Front Entrance of Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City
- Description: View of the front entrance of the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida. The restaurant was established in 1905 and is considered the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States. Its size also makes it one of the largest restaurants in the world. Columbia Restaurant is a family owned business belonging to the Hernandez and Gonzmart family. The restaurant was started by Casmiro Hernandez, Sr. who named the restaurant after the song, "Columbia Gem of the Ocean." Casmiro Sr. came to the United States along with his family in 1905 due to the conflicts arising in Spain. He first settled in New York, but then moved south to Tampa, FL where he bought a struggling bar and converted it into a restaurant. The restaurant served as a place to get drinks and light meals for the immigrants working in the numerous Tampa cigar factories at the time. Soon Casmiro began creating specialties such as his original Spanish bean soup. His prices, meal plans, and good food eventually made expansion necessary. While Casmiro Sr. bought the adjoining building to expand Columbia, it was his son Casmiro Hernandez, Jr. that took the restaurant from small cafe to an elegant restaurant complete with music and dancing. The restaurant was unique throughout all of the Southeast. While the restaurant was not immune to the effects of the Great Depression, it recovered and became the first restaurant in Tampa to feature an air-conditioned dining room. It also contained a raised dance floor. The Don Quixote dining room brought in many customers and was followed by the patio dining room, which was reminiscent of courtyard areas found in Andalucia, Spain. The patio featured a mosaic tiled fountain, marble floors, palm trees, and a second floor balcony. Adela, the daughter of Casmiro Jr., and her husband would be the next in the family to inherit the Columbia Restaurant. Adela and Cesar Gonzmart, both musicians, were able to perform for their guests and eventually added on another dining room they called the Siboney room after a song by a Cuban composer and the landing site of the Americans during the Spanish-American War. In 1959, another restaurant was opened in Sarasota. When the cigar companies began to close in the 1950s, the area of Ybor city once again felt the effects economically, yet the Columbia Restaurant survived and became host to a number of famous Latin music performers. In the 1980s, the restaurant started a dancing troupe that performed the traditional flamenco dance of Spain. Casey and Richard Gonzmart, the sons of Adela and Cesar, both decided to follow tradition and take over the family restaurant business. After studying restaurant managment and attending culinary school in Europe, they both helped open the next three restaurants in St. Augustine, St Petersburg, and Clearwater. Eventually another restaurant would open in Celebration, Florida. One year before the death of Cesar Gonzmart in 1992, the restaurant chain produced 42 million dollars. In the years to come, more expansion would take place, and the family would continue to manage the restaurant with the business changing hands to each generation after the next.
- Keywords: Columbia Restaurant, restaurant, Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, Spanish restaurant, Columbia
- TIFF File: A high resolution TIFF of Front Entrance of Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City (16.6 Mb) is available for download. This is a very large file suitable for printing. For most on-screen purposes, you should use the image displayed on this page instead of this TIFF.
- Source: Florida Center for Instructional Technology, Exploring Florida: Social Studies Resources
for Students and Teachers (Tampa, FL: University of South Florida, 2009)
- County: Hillsborough
- Date of Photo: 1/7/2006
- Photographer: Roy Winkelman