How To Create Longevity In The Restaurant Industry
This month January 2020, I will share the success story of Columbia Restaurant.
I have personally eaten at three of the locations in Florida, where I live so that I can vouch for the food and entertainment!
Owned and operated by five generations of the same family for more than 100 years!
Now, that’s a success story and, most importantly, an incredible example of restaurant longevity!
Because there is a percentage of entrepreneurs who want to start and grow a family business, specifically their children. I believe Columbia is a perfect example as a legacy to write about this month.
Columbia is Florida’s oldest restaurant, and it’s even trademarked.
Longevity In The Restaurant Industry
The First Generation Of Columbia Restaurant Is Born
Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr. Columbia now has locations in Sarasota, St. Augustine, Clearwater Beach, and Orlando.
It began in Tampa’s Ybor City (pronounced EE-bore) as a small 60-seat corner café. It became famous for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches, frequented by the local cigar workers.
Ybor City was born from Cuban cigar makers who relocated with their factories in the 1880s. It soon became an enclave brought to life by a thriving Cuban community that kept strong ties to and love for their homeland.
Spanning a full city block (there’s even a walking tour of the premises), adorned with photographs and newspaper articles on its walls, with indoor palm trees and fountains contributing to its coastal Florida vibe.
Columbia restaurant is one of the strong ties that continue to keep the Cuban culture ALIVE in Florida!
As the Prohibition movement gained steam, Casimiro Sr. faced a bitter dilemma. He could lose his saloon or find a new use for Columbia. He did not have to look far. Manuel Garcia, who owned La Fonda, the restaurant next door, agreed in 1919 to join him and retain the name “Columbia.” The size of the Columbia doubled overnight.
Second Generation Joins The Family Business
In 1919, his son, Casimiro Hernandez Jr., joined the business. After the death of Casimiro Sr. in 1929, Casimiro Jr. took over ownership and operation of the restaurant. He aspired to take the Columbia beyond its humble beginnings and envisioned an elegant dining room with music and dancing, the likes of which were unheard of in this part of the country at the time.
During the height of the Depression in 1935, he took a chance by building the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa, complete with an elevated dance floor. He named it the Don Quixote Room.
Third Generation Joins The Family Business
Casimiro Jr. and his wife, Carmen, had one child, Adela Hernandez Gonzmart. Adela was a concert pianist and trained at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1946, Adela married Cesar Gonzmart, a concert violinist. They traveled throughout the United States infamous supper clubs during the early 1950s.
In 1953, Casimiro Jr. was in failing health, his daughter Adela, her husband Cesar Gonzmart, and two sons Casey and Richard, moved to Tampa to become the third generation. They divided the business duties of operating the restaurant and raising their two sons.
The family persevered in keeping the restaurant open during the late 1950s and all through the 1960s when Ybor City was dying. Many of the row houses that once housed the cigar workers had decayed into slums. Urban renewal cut the heart from the Latin Quarter. More families moved out.
Cesar Gonzmar, Adel’s husband, realized they had to do something to bring people back to Ybor City.
Because he had a flair for the artistic, he took over the direction of the restaurant, and he built the Siboney Room in 1956. Some of the top Latin talent during that era came to perform in this large showroom. Who would have thought that you could see world-class entertainment at a restaurant?
Columbia survived those lean years and came back stronger than ever. The entertainment tradition continues today at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, where Spanish flamenco dancers perform every night except Sunday.
During Cesar Gonzmart’s reign, the Columbia also expanded to other locations in Florida. In 1959, Columbia Restaurant opened on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. Today it is Sarasota’s oldest restaurant.
The fourth Generation Joins The Family Business
Cesar and Adela’s sons, Richard and Casey, began working at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City when each turned 12-years-old. They started with receiving the merchandise in the restaurant & stocking shelves and worked their way through all the different cooking stations within the kitchen.
Casey’s formal education in hotel and restaurant administration continued at the Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, Switzerland, and at La Escuela Sidical de Hosteleria in Madrid, Spain. He apprenticed at the Ledoyen Restaurant in Paris, France, and the Inter-Continental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland.
Richard graduated high school from Tampa’s Jesuit High School in 1971 and continued at the University of Denver School of Hotel and Restaurant Management and attended the University of Madrid, Escuela de Hosteleria.
Both Casey and Richard returned to Columbia Restaurant upon completion of their education and worked in the family business with their father.
Richard is the CEO/President, and Casey serves as the Chairman of the Board.
The fifth Generation Joins The Family Business
Now involved, Richard’s daughter, Andrea, and Casey’s son, Casey Jr., work in the corporate office.
The Sixth Generation Is Waiting In The Wings
Casey has one child who represents the 6th generation. Richard’s daughters, Lauren and Andrea, also live in Tampa. Lauren has four children, and Andrea has one child, their children represent the 6th generation.
Over the years, Columbia Restaurant has attracted some of the most well-known athletes and entertainers from yesteryear to today. From Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter, Lou Piniella, Ken Griffey Jr., and Barry Larkin, from Liberace to Bruce Springsteen, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Brian Johnson of ACDC, from Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano to Evander Holyfield, from Marilyn Monroe and Liza Minelli to Bo Derek, everyone enjoys the Columbia. Other recent visitors include George Clooney, Stephen King, Bryant Gumbel, Brooke Shields, and Lauren Hutton.
Now To The Successful Spanish/Cuban Cuisine
What Has Been A Major Reason For Their Longevity
What Shines In The Sunshine State? Cuban Flavors And Fresh Seafood
Florida’s melting pot of cuisine makes for one of the most appealing dining scenes in the country. Some of the world’s best chefs bring the influx of Spanish, Cuban, and Latin American cuisine to the palates that live and visit Florida.
Columbia is one of the most popular restaurants where Chefs, Cuisine, and Entertainment marry a culture to the delight of those seeking foods and history all in one place.
Few Selections From Their Successful Longevity Menu
Columbia’s Original “1905” Salad®
“One Of America’s Top 10 Best Salads” – USA Today
In the 1970s, this flavorful salad was Columbia’s answer to the ubiquitous salad bar. Created by writer Tony Noriega in the 1940s, it was adopted by the Columbia, eventually phasing out the use of black olives and celery.
The Columbia kitchen designed a new dressing that features Worcestershire sauce, lemon, and Parmesan cheese. [When the president of Lea and Perrins heard that Columbia was his biggest customer, he investigated and ate a “1905” Salad®. He soon discovered the salad’s delights for himself.]
Paella “A la Valenciana”
A Columbia Restaurant Specialty Entrée
The Columbia’s signature paella, this version balances seafood, pork and chicken.
Red Snapper “Alicante”
A Columbia Restaurant Signature Entrée
Some food theorists don’t think that a beef-based sauce can work with seafood. Over the years, millions of Columbia patrons have disagreed. This classic is one of Columbia’s signature dishes.
The Original Cuban Sandwich
A Tampa treasure!
The “Mixto,” known in the beginning, was created in the 1890s for the cigar workers. It changed as immigrants from different countries came to Ybor City.
The Spanish brought the fine ham, the Sicilians the Genoa salami, the Cubans the mojo-marinated roast pork, the Germans and Jews the Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard.
Today they are still using the 1915 recipe the founder Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. The sandwich should not be overstuffed with ham but carefully proportioned. Pressing the sandwich toasts the bread, melts the cheese, and renders the juices of the ingredients. Some prefer a “smashed Cuban,” which is pressed slowly for a long time.
Awards & Accolades To Name A Few
- One of America’s Most Historic Restaurants by USA Today.
- Named an All-American Icon by Nation’s Restaurant News, one of only fifty restaurants in the U.S. chosen for this honor.
- One of 21 of the Most Legendary Restaurants in America by FSR Magazine.
- Named One of the 100 Best Restaurants for Groups in America by OpenTable
- Columbia earned the “Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) Award of Excellence” in 2005 and every year since. One of the most prestigious awards in the elegant dining industry.
- Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame
- Named one of Southern Living Magazine’s “Favorite Regional Tastes” for Spanish and Cuban cuisine in the April 2005 “Our Favorites” issue.
Highlighted Reasons For Columbias Longevity:
~ A captive audience! Customers, in the beginning, were local cigar workers. Their reputation grew as local immigrants found the foods they missed from their homeland at the Columbia. The cuisine was desirable and still is, and that one of the reasons for their longevity their menu.
~ Worked at making their customers comfortable in a warm climate while they ate. They built the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa. It was probably expensive, but the investment paid off. Dinning guests seeking to cool off and eat headed to Columbia to get the best of both worlds.
~ Entertainment helped set their restaurant apart from the competition. Some of the top Latin talent during that era came to perform in the restaurant’s large showroom. Columbia gave their dining guests more than just an enjoyable meal. The entertainment tradition continues today at the Ybor location, where Spanish flamenco dancers perform every night except Sunday.
~Owned and operated by five generations of the same family for more than 100 years! Their children have continued in the passionate footsteps their patriarch, Casimiro Hernandez Sr.
Family Business Longevity
Above all, each generation remains interested in learning about and running the business. The family has continued running a profitable business. Each member can be guaranteed an income if they following what has worked for 100 years and keeping their eyes open to what lies ahead.
The future looks bright as the family remodels and upgrades its restaurants. The old kitchen space was renovated and turned into two new dining rooms: the Andalucia and the Familia de Casimiro. These are the first new dining rooms built in the restaurant since 1956.
The Familia de Casimiro was named in honor of Richard & Casey’s great-grandfather and the founder of the restaurant, Casimiro Hernandez Sr., and designed to resemble a Spanish wine cellar, with space for private meetings.
How To Create Longevity In The Restaurant Industry
To achieve longevity in the restaurant industry, it begins during your startup phase, the most critical stage of a business.
It’s an overwhelming opening of a restaurant. There are many questions and roadblocks you will face.
You must have a plan or blueprint, have all your questions answered, and be ready to know how to handle the roadblocks when they come your way.
If you need assistance during your startup and would like to know how to turn your restaurant into a viable and long-running business, my services will to teach. I will show you how to start confidently and experience longevity!
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