Historic info and photos are from "The Columbia Restaurant, Celebrating a Century of History, Culture and Cuisine" by Andrew Huse. 
A "Must-have" book for any Tampa native, it features history, photos, and recipes.)




Many politicians and celebrities have dined at the Columbia over the years, Personalities such as Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Joe DiMaggio, Gig Young, Liberace, and Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Ferdie Pacheco, the artist, author, and television commentator and former fight doctor for Muhammad Ali, once waited tables for Cesar at the Columbia when he was a lad of fourteen. He always maintained his friendship with the Gonzmart family. Pacheco co-authored a cookbook with Adela Gonzmart.  One of the Columbia's first chefs was Pijuan, who cooked for King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Pijuan contributed a special pompano pappillot, and a steak capuchina, among other specialties, some of which are still served today.

César and Adela Gonzmart's sons, Richard and Casey, began working at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City when each turned 12-years old. They started off with receiving merchandise in the restaurant & stocking shelves, and worked their way through all the different cooking stations within the kitchen.  Both Casey and Richard returned to Columbia Restaurant upon completion of their education and worked in the family business with their father.

One longtime Columbia staffer said Gonzmart blessed his son Richard by sending him to Spain with an American Express card and instructions "to learn the restaurant business by eating out every night." In that same story, it was said that Richard earned his father's blessing by turning down a Michigan State University football scholarship and a likely professional football career to follow in César's footsteps. Having earned degrees from the University of Madrid and the University of Denver, Richard heads operations for most of the Columbia group. Meanwhile, Casey Gonzmart pursued culinary studies in Europe, apprenticing at several restaurants in Paris and in Geneva and Lucerne, Switzerland. Casey also studied Spanish cuisine at the University of Madrid and heads recipe development, food production and staff training.

Following César Gonzmart’s death in 1992, his sons, 4th generation brothers Casey and Richard assumed leadership of the Columbia Restaurants, sharing the title of President. To this day, over 100 years since it first opened, the Columbia remains in the same family.

Read a more detailed account of the restaurant's history



Mark's exemplary service is typical of Columbia's exacting standards.  Friendly and personal, yet professional and flawless.  Above, Mark displays one of the Columbia's delicious entrees; Camarones Rellenos "Jesse Gonzalez." Colossal size Singleton shrimp stuffed with lump crabmeat baked with lemon butter. Served with "Good Rice" and fresh vegetables.

You’ll be treated to just enough service for you to feel pampered, but at the same time for you not to feel pestered. It’s almost as if Columbia’s servers have a sixth sense about them to know when you want something and when you want to be left alone to enjoy your meal or the show. Above, Mark proudly displays the Columbia's special birthday bread pudding dessert, complete with a candle.

Above center: A generous portion of fresh, warm & crispy Cuban bread starts your meal.  Middle center:  Chicken & Shrimp Barcelona, Boneless chicken breast sautéed with shrimp in delicious lobster bisque, brandy, white wine carrots and onions, served with yellow rice. Bottom center:  The classic Spanish dessert--Flan, Spanish caramelized egg custard.



The Columbia’s service is impeccable and has been overseen for decades by 56-year-old General Manager, George Guito.  George, who started as a dishwasher when he was 14, has worked there all his life, and each day he is the first person to arrive and the last one to leave.

You’ll notice there is quite a bit of attention to detail.  From the carefully polished glasses and silverware, linen tablecloths and napkins, and chilled salad plates, to the quickly delivered and properly prepared beverages and fresh water.  No detail is overlooked.  Piping hot freshly baked Cuban bread, tableside preparation with acrobatic precision, a procession of salads, flaming entrées and desserts; all are under the watchful eye of George Guito.

Right:  The Columbia serving staff in 1948


Columbia Restaurant Waiters Staff, 1966

Place your cursor on the photo to identify various waiters
Photo courtesy of Mario Nuñez
  • Ramonin Lopez (bottom row) retired after having his 2nd pacemaker installed at the age of 83, his son was chief of Neurology at the University of Miami

  • Serafin Martinez (bottom row) is the father of former Mayor/Governor Bob Martinez.  Serafin worked at the Columbia Restaurant as a waiter from 1938 until 1975. It is said that he never wrote down a single order. For one party, he memorized the orders of 36 customers. One New Years' Eve, he served 211 using no pencil or paper. In 1975 Serafin left the Columbia to join his son at the Cafe Sevilla Spanish Restaurant, which Bob Martinez owned before becoming mayor of Tampa.

  • Juan Contreras (bottom row) worked at the Columbia for over 40 years and was the president of Local 104 Union, he is the father of Yankees pitching coach Nardi Contreras

  • Manuel Torres (bottom row) went on to become the Columbia dining room manager, he was the uncle to baseball player/coach Lou Pinella

  • Mike Baluja (middle row) went on to become the Head Maitre' d and one of Richard Gonzmart's teachers when he started at the Columbia

  • Juan Tejada (middle row) was also a boxer...Yo Adrian!

  • Joe Fernandez (middle row) was a brother of Manuel Fernandez (bottom row)

  • Manuel Mendoza (bottom row) was the uncle of Felipe Nuñez (top row)

  • Felipe Nuñez (top row) is the first cousin of Bernie Menendez' (top row) wife

  • None of the three Nuñezes were related to each other.

Joe Roman (middle row) spent 58 years working for 4 generations of Columbia Restaurant owners. Born and raised in Ybor City, he developed a following over the years for his beautiful tableside serenades. That led him to become known as "The Singing Waiter."  The son of a cigar roller, Roman was hired by Casimiro Hernandez Jr. and his wife Carmen, to work as a waiter in the coffee shop. He remained on staff when Cesar and Adela Gonzmart, ran the family business. He loved his job and entertaining people.  Any chance he had to sing, he would.  He would often break out with his rendition of Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  He also enjoyed entertaining children at the restaurant with slight-of-hand magic tricks.  Mr. Roman passed away on Dec. 5, 2012.  See Tribune story.     TBT Story



Tribune photo by Jim Reed

Joe Roman, Sr. Columbia Restaurant's beloved ambassador


"These wonderful men served with pride; they were dedicated to the Columbia Restaurant and provided professional service to all the customers who visited.  I recall such fond memories of these fine men that helped mold the Columbia into what it is today. I am thankful for their dedication and hard work-- they were truly professionals."  --Richard Gonzmart


Special thanks to:  Mario Nuñez and his father, Felipe Nuñez, Manny Mendoza, Gov. Bob Martinez, Andy Huse and Richard Gonzmart for photo identifications and comments about  their fathers/waiters.




The Kings Dining room offers private dining and a dance floor for special events such as banquets and ceremonies.  Portraits of past and present Kings & Queens of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago of Gasparilla hang on the walls.

The fraternal order of Sant’ Yago, the famous order to which the Brotherhood of the “Caballeros” of the Royal Order of St. James is dedicated, played a powerful part in the history of Spain. It is an order so devotedly believed in since well before the ninth century that it has moved men to accomplish incredible deeds. The fraternal order of St. James began when St. James the Greater, one of the 12 Apostles, came to Spain to preach the Gospel.



Just as this order in Spain has contributed to the growth and prosperity of that country, so too, the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago in Tampa has dedicated itself to the perpetuation and enhancement of the proud Latin heritage, culture and mores of our citizens. The Krewe dedicates itself to the continued improvement of life and cultural progress.

In Tampa, the birth of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago was in 1970. After many years of conversations as to the need for an organization of this sort to preserve the Latin culture of Tampa, five men met at the old Las Novedades Restaurant. Dr. Henry J. Fernandez, who called the five men together, was joined by César Gonzmart, Joseph R. Lopez, Daniel F. Martinez and Joe C. Granda. After many meetings discussing whether enough interest could be generated to form a first class organization, these five men were joined by additional men.  Many more meetings were held weekly and it was established that the organization had a good chance of success.



These weekly meetings continued until 1972 when all of the 15 members were officially designated members of the Board of Directors. Bylaws were drawn up and officers were elected, and each member of the Board was made responsible for bringing in four members to form a charter membership of 75 men. In September of 1972, the first gathering of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago was held at the Columbia Restaurant. The first Coronation of the Krewe was held in January of 1973, when the first King, Phil LoCicero, and the first Queen, Mary Frances Mandese (Ledo) were crowned.

The membership has increased to its limit of 300. In order to preserve the closeness, fellowship and exclusiveness that the Board felt was necessary to make the Krewe an organization that the members would enjoy, the Krewe has always maintained a membership limit.  The objective of the Krewe is to perpetuate and enhance the proud Latin Heritage, mores and culture of the community; and to encourage gregarious appetites for brotherhood, merriment and social festivities.


The Flamenco, one of Spain's traditional dances consisting of rhythmic dance steps performed on a hard wood floor, originated with the Spanish Gypsies and has evolved through the years to the more structured form of which we are more familiar. The classical Spanish dances consist of ballet moves in colorful Spanish costumes accompanied by the sound of castanets.

Experience the fire of Flamenco at Columbia Restaurant in Tampa's Historic Ybor City. You'll enjoy a captivating performance by The Columbia Restaurant Dance Troupe, led by recently appointed Artistic Director, Maria Sevilla.  Maria has been with the show for more than 20 years, and had worked under three different Artistic Directors until her appointment in January of 2009.  The troupe has been performing at the Columbia since 1985.



Maria Sevilla, Sandra Serrano, Elena Tellone

Flamenco video from the Columbia Restaurant





"Good Day Tampa Bay" Interview Part 1

"Good Day Tampa Bay" Interview Part 2


"Good Day Tampa Bay" Interview Part 3

About the book           GET THE BOOK!


"Behind the Scenes" Part 1


"Behind the Scenes" Part 2

Events in Recent Columbia Restaurant History

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.

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 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.

2009 - The Columbia Café opens at the Tampa Bay History Center in Downtown Tampa.

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

There have been MANY MORE CRG important events dates up to 2019. This timeline will eventually be updated!

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Photo from "The Columbia Restaurant, Celebrating a Century of History, Culture and Cuisine" by Andrew Huse.