CEO Connect Recap: The Gonzmarts

Like Father, Like Daughter with Richard Gonzmart and Andrea Gonzmart Williams

The historic identity the Columbia Restaurant has made, in Ybor City, is undeniable. It’s a story told, over and over, but the succession plan, and the dynamic between the current leadership, is yet a new story and one Tampa Bay Business and Wealth was proud to tell. 

What TBBW found, fitting for June’s “Father’s Day Issue” was the tender, and humorous, relationship that Richard Gonzmart, a passionate philanthropist and a genius restaurateur, has with his daughter, Andrea Gonzmart Williams. 

Williams, along with her cousin, Casey Gonzmart Jr., stand ready to take the reins when Richard, someday, reduces his daily workload … at least he keeps saying he will, one day …

For now, the fourth and the fifth generation of the Gonzmart family is leading the charge of the Columbia Restaurant, as well as the other family of restaurants under its roster. The Columbia is among 14 restaurants, and six brands, under the umbrella of the 1905 Family of Restaurants, which had more than 2.4 million customers in 2022.

Bridgette Bello, chief executive officer and publisher of TBBW, interviewed Gonzmart and Williams in front of a sold-out audience at the Columbia Restaurant, in Ybor City. This interview has been edited for length and brevity. 

See photos from this CEO Connect here.

Please help me welcome Andrea and Richard Gonzmart. We should put him in the middle because we’re both wearing green tonight. And he’s so shy…

Gonzmart: You know, I’m very shy. [Laughter]

I’m not sure how we’re going to get him to talk this evening but I’m going to do my best.Our annual Father’s Day issue is something that is a labor of love for us. We love being able to tell the story of the fathers who are passing their businesses down to their children. So, Richard, my first question for you since when we spoke this morning, you said you had been up since 1:30 a.m. Did you take a nap? Or do you take naps standing like Grandpa?

Gonzmart: I took about a 10 or 15-minute nap, around 3 p.m. today. 

I feel like the roosters, I just can’t wait to start the day. I love the early morning. It’s the best time of the day to get into your thoughts, concentrate and listen to those messages that come to you. It’s amazing what happens to me on a daily basis. 

Do you see other people at 1:30 a.m. in the morning?

Gonzmart: People that are trying to go to sleep. [Laughter] 

Can you each talk a little bit about what it’s been like to be on the cover of TBBW? Has anything amazing happened? 

Gonzmart: I’m an emotional person. I really am. And I started coming to tears. We grew up here. I could just think of what my mom would say, to see her granddaughter [today], because she lived in an era where women weren’t allowed to work in the business. She was a pioneer for all women and she was a mentor to my daughter. I’m just a fourth-generation caretaker. Everybody wants to be a president, or CEO, but I realized I have something greater. And that’s the father of the fifth generation.

We’re the ones you’re going to make emotional tonight. I can see it. 

Gonzmart: I’m not going to make it through this. 

Andrea, anything you’d like to share?

Williams: We’ve been able to do so many great things together. He has encouraged me to do so many things that I never thought I would do, like run marathons, and we’ve gotten to travel together. When you think there’s nothing else that you can do together … I think doing that photo shoot together was one of the most fun things we’ve ever done. Those pictures are freezing time. I’m going to have those forever and I’ll forever be able to share those with my daughter who I’m working on being the sixth generation. 

It’s been an honor to tell your story, hear the feedback from the community and about how many lives you both have touched and how many questions we answered as far as what’s going to happen when Richard does ever retire.

Gonzmart: Don’t use that word … stepping away from the day-to-day to do something else.

What can you share with us news that has not been previously shared as it relates to The Buccaneer? I know it has been a labor of love. 

Gonzmart: My idea of short term is 10 years. I bought my first antiques probably nine years ago, in Bordeaux, for this restaurant. I have a warehouse loaded. If I don’t do this restaurant, we’re going to have a great antique gallery. It’s a dream because it was my parents’ favorite restaurant on Longboat Key when there wasn’t a Columbia restaurant on St. Armand’s Circle because there wasn’t a St. Armand’s Circle, basically. 

We found it on November 16, 1957. I was four years old. There was nothing there but people visiting. It was going to be a $6.3 million dollar investment to build it. We own two properties and we have 16 boat slips along the water. We’ll have 100 parking spaces and working with the Catholic Church, will have 150 but the price has gone up now to $9.5 million for a restaurant with 200 seats. This is a dream, so much so that I bought a home there. I have to do this restaurant. 

If you go to Ulele, you’ll see the Buccaneer statue. I just came back from Amsterdam where I bought five more pieces of art. 

Williams: I’ve always agreed with the program. Once I went to Longboat Key, and I realized there are so few restaurants, I was like, ‘We would do amazing.’ But then when we started looking at all the challenges, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s why there are not so many restaurants on Longboat Key.’ Because there are things to overcome, the cost of building it. Every challenge I give him, he overcomes. I think it would be a great opportunity. I love keeping what we’re doing within our community, within our area. It’s an hour away. It’s easy for us to keep an eye on it. 

Gonzmart: This is the last big thing I do. I think I’m just going to move to that house. Leave [Williams] alone here running the other restaurants and I’m going to stay there. I think I’m going to go catch the fish we’ll serve daily. 

Andrea, do you really share the same passion for this project?

Williams: I think it would be amazing. I do have my hesitations with certain things. I think we need to look at the bottom line and look at how much it’s going to cost to build it. Call me a realist. 

Look at [Gonzmart]. He can’t stand it.

Gonzmart: We have three other projects going on there right now that I’m working on. So, we’ll have a divisional manager there overseeing it.

Williams: I agree with that.

Gonzmart: She said, ‘Who’s going to run this?’ I’ve got that figured out. I can’t tell you the other part. 

When we started talking about your reduction in duties, and what that looked like, you started talking about the eight, or nine, other projects you’re already working on. What are the eight, or nine, other projects that you’re working on?

Gonzmart: I’m going to spill everything out! Don’t tell anybody in the press. [Laughter] We own the Naviera Coffee Mill. The Naviera Fernandez family started roasting coffee 1921. They sell nationwide and they sold me the building. So now, in the Naviera building, we’re going to put a Sicilian market. I’m trying to bring in a group from Philadelphia, Di Bruno Brothers since 1939. They just don’t know it. Don’t tell them yet.

Williams: You keep talking about it, they’re going to hear about it. [Laughter]

All right. So that’s one project. You said there’s eight, or nine. Can you rattle off two, or three, more?

Gonzmart: The Reina building, across the street. We’re going to be moving the Columbia store across the street, we’re going to make another dining room in here. We’re going to do a rooftop with Carlos Fuente. So we can have an event center as big as this is, because we’ve run out of room. 

There was a time when we had no business. We do more business in one month, now, than we did in a year 15 years ago. That’s a world of difference. We’re going to build something else. I can’t tell you that part.

Andrea, in our interview, you talked about potentially doing something else and choosing not to. What advice would you give those of us in the room who are business owners who have children who are at the age of entering the business and how we should handle that?

Williams: You know, I make it very clear to my daughter, and even beyond my daughter. For example, my nephew, he was at Florida State University, and he’s like, ‘You know, I’m just going to drop out. I’m just going to come work for Pop Pop.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, that’s not an option. We have family bylaws, you must get a degree, you have to earn your spot here.’ He was like, ‘Seriously?’

It’s about making sure they understand what those standards are, even when it comes to my daughter. When I started working for the company. I walked in having to prove myself more than anybody else. 

I don’t have the answer for the next generation. I am just trying to make sure she understands that you must work for it. 

Gonzmart: Andrea didn’t say it but she was the first female to ever work, on the line, in the kitchen. First female to work washing dishes.

One of my favorite things that [Richard] said during the interview, and it was in the story, but I’m going to repeat it because it’s worth repeating. Because you said never to turn your back when you’re making the 1905 salad. Right? 

Gonzmart: It would be like the flamenco dancers doing it backward. It’s the same. You’re performing, you’re putting on a show.

Williams: It was like the Cuban sandwich. Talk about how you made the Cuban sandwich better.

Gonzmart: It was the Great Recession. What did we do? We went and reinvented the Cuban sandwich and went to the 1941 recipe. Because [before] we took shortcuts. We bought precooked marinated pork. I went and sourced everything out. It took me almost a year to get the salami with the peppercorns, marinating the pork and slow roasting it. It’s the right portion [now]. 

It’s an exact recipe from 1941. The one from 1915 menu, when Miami says they created it. The mix comes from the Sicilians that came here, the ham from the Spanish, the pork from the Cubans and then the cheese and the mustard pickles from the Jewish that came from Romania. It was truly a time when people lived here, worked here and got along together. What’s wrong with this world? Why can’t we go back to being the original Cuban sandwich?

Williams: And when he was doing it, this was probably a couple of decades ago, before I learned everything I knew. I go, ‘Daddy, it’s going to cost so much more.’ And what did you say?

Gonzmart: It doesn’t matter. It’s a layer. I went in our restaurant, in Sarasota, and I eat [the sandwich]. I take a bite. I get the general manager and tell him this sandwich was made upside down. The mustard has to be on the top. It has to be the ham, the pork, the salami, the cheese, the pickles and the mustard on top. So when the mustard hits the top of your mouth, the palate stimulates it. Come follow me for a day.

We would all be exhausted.

Williams: I follow him and I still learn something new every single day. ♦


ABOUT ‘CEO CONNECT’

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, event that brings together the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. The Bank of Tampa, Nperspective, CLA and SEDCO were presenting sponsors. The host sponsor was The Columbia Restaurant. 

TBBW’s video partner is Empowering Creative.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by an interview with that month’s cover CEO.

Partnering with TBBW on future editions provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at
[email protected].

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