The Columbia Restaurant


LOCATION:
2117 E. Seventh Avenue, Ybor City, FL 33605

OWNER: The Columbia Restaurant / Gonzmart Family

ARCHITECT:  Unknown

BUILT: 1905 (along with their famous salad!)

SIZE:  15 dining rooms and 1,700 seats across a full city block

WEBSITE: www.columbiarestaurant.com

 

Welcome to the World Famous Columbia Restaurant!  Though it is now a grand restaurant with many dining rooms, when it opened in 1905 it was a small and simple café that served lunch to Ybor City’s cigar factory workers.  The restaurant’s founder, Casimiro Hernandez, did not name his café after the South American Country, but rather after a famous patriotic song about a ship called “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.”  If you choose to dine here, take a look at the menus and you’ll quickly notice the majestic ship on the front and the restaurant’s nickname “the Gem of Spanish Restaurants.”  In the 24 years that he ran the Columbia, Casimiro developed his restaurant from a café into a stylish eatery with classy waiters and a distinctive menu that set it apart from anywhere else in Tampa.  When Casimiro passed away in 1929, the restaurant passed to his son, Casimiro II.  He expanded the Columbia by adding two huge dining rooms, and he hired a new head chef, named “Pijuan” who used to work in the kitchen of King Alfonso XII of Spain.  All of this only added to the restaurant’s fame and popularity.

Adela Gonzmart, daughter of Casimiro II, inherited the restaurant upon her father’s death.  She and her husband, Cesar Gonzmart, were both vibrant and elegant musicians.  She was a concert pianist, while he was an accomplished violinist.  They breathed life into the restaurant and their community activism helped maintain the Columbia as a neighborhood meeting place through Ybor City’s less prosperous times.  Their sons, Casey and Richard, now carry on the long tradition of their family, which has now grown to include not only this, but 6 other restaurants and cafes throughout Florida!

Tampa’s historic Columbia Restaurant would not be what it is without its tiles: thousands of them, hand-painted terra cotta, adorning the walls inside and out. They tell a story of the Columbia itself, marking virtually every era of a restaurant that grew from a humble café to an honored institution.  Recently an artist meticulously restored the tiles made in Spain in the 1930s.  The restaurant’s Don Quixote Room was Tampa’s first air-conditioned dining room – or, as it was then known, refrigerated room, It was added in the 1930’s in the depths of the Great Depression. It was an instant success. There was music and dancing and tuxedoed waiters serving paella and pompano beneath a giant crystal chandelier. It offered Tampa a respite from the gloom of the times and put the Columbia on the culinary map.

Today the Columbia is recognized as the nation’s oldest continuously operating Spanish restaurant.  In fact, it is one of only three restaurants in Florida inducted into the National Restaurant Hall of Fame.  Its unique dining rooms, beautiful Spanish tiles, priceless artwork, and amazing cuisine truly make it “The Gem of Spanish Restaurants.”