Richard Gonzmart Biography/President and 4th Generation Family Member
President – Columbia Restaurant Group
4th Generation Family Member
Richard Gonzmart’s education in the hospitality industry began when he was born. His earliest recollection was at the age of 3 ½ -years-old when his grandfather, Casimiro Hernandez Jr., taught him how to identify fresh fish. He is the great-grandson of Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the founder of the world-famous Columbia Restaurant in Tampa’s Historic Ybor City. The Columbia was founded in 1905 and is the oldest restaurant in Florida, the oldest Hispanic restaurant in the United States and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
Richard’s practical experience in the food industry began at the early age of 12, when he started spending summers as an apprentice cook in the Columbia kitchen. He 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 Escuela de Turismo y Hosteleria in Madrid Spain.
Under Richard’s direction, The Columbia has expanded from two locations to seven: From the flagship Columbia in Ybor City and in Sarasota to St. Augustine, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Celebration, the Columbia Café on the Riverwalk in Tampa and the Columbia Restaurant Café at Tampa International Airport.
All Columbia locations are owned and operated by 4th and 5th generation members of the founding family; except for Columbia Restaurant Cafe at Tampa International Airport which is operated in partnership with HMSHost. He is also responsible for the creation and development of Cha Cha Coconuts, located in Sarasota.
Richard’s latest project is a new restaurant called Ulele, named for the daughter of a legendary Native American chief. The restaurant and brewery serves unique foods and spirits by fusing elements from a rich variety of Native American and multicultural influences, including those of European explorers. The menu features items indigenous to this area’s waters and farms. Ulele is located on the Hillsborough River, just north of Downtown Tampa in Tampa Heights. It’s the site of a former City of Tampa Water Works building, next to the new Water Works Park.
Under Richard’s leadership, The Columbia has been honored with several prestigious awards including:
• Named an All-American Icon by Nation’s Restaurant News, one of only fifty restaurants in the U.S. chosen for this honor in 2010.
• 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 fine dining industry.
• Named to Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
• Named to Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Hall of Fame in 2005 – the industry’s highest regional award as “One of the Top 25 Restaurants in Florida.” Named “One of Florida’s Top Restaurants” since 1967.
• Winner of Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence, in 2004 and every year since for an outstanding collection of Spanish wines (over 850 wines, inventory exceeds 50,000 bottles). Also, Award of Excellence issued from 1993-2003.
• The Columbia’s Original "1905" Salad™ was selected as “One of America’s Top 10 Best Salads” by USA Today, the only restaurant in Florida named to this list.
• Winner of the 2001-2002 MassMutual National Family Business of the Year award.
The Gonzmart family has always been dedicated to the community. In 1995, Richard implemented the Annual Cesar Gonzmart Memorial Gourmet Golf Tournament with 100% of the money donated by players and corporate sponsors benefitting two scholarship funds at USF; the Adela and Cesar Gonzmart Memorial Endowment and the Columbia Centenario Endowment benefitting the USF Latino Scholarship program. Also benefitting is USF Athletics, so that Bulls student athletes may enjoy some of the top athletic training and sports facilities across the nation, and will also offer other students and fans the opportunity to enjoy a collegiate athletic contest at the highest level possible on campus.
In 1998 Richard created the Annual Columbia Restaurant Community Harvest program.
Since the program began, the Columbia has given $1.3 million to non-profit organizations throughout Florida. Through this program, each of the eight Columbia Restaurants donates 5% of guests’ checks during the month of September to local charitable organizations chosen by their guests.
In 2001 Richard established the Columbia Restaurant Endowment for research at Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. Using his passion for running, he created “Richard’s Run For Life,” a tax exempt charity dedicated to raising funds for cancer research and to raise awareness of what this research will mean to the future under the Gonzmart Family Foundation.
Richard’s motivation to find a cure for cancer comes from friends and family who have been affected by cancer and who are surviving and thriving after treatment. The Annual “Richard’s Run For Life” 5K was created in 2002 to raise funds for research at Moffitt Cancer Center. Gonzmart and his staff donate time to this event and others to raise funds for this cause.
In 2007 Richard created the Annual “Andrea’s Sip for Life” wine tasting fundraiser, and 100% of every dollar donated and raised benefits H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa Adolescent Young Adult (AYA) Sarcoma research. This year, hundreds of people enjoyed over 150 premium wines from Spain, California and South America, along with food prepared by The Columbia Café on the Riverwalk in Tampa. The event was named after Andrea Dicks Hartley, a young Mother and Moffitt patient who lost her battle to sarcoma cancer in August 2006 at the age of 30, leaving behind her 2 1/2-year-old daughter.
Gonzmart currently serves on the Board of Directors for:
• The Inaugural Florida Entrepreneur & Family Business Advisory Board at the
University of Tampa
• Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Hospital Foundation
• Moffitt’s Advanced Prostate Cancer Coalition
• Visit Tampa Bay
• “España Florida Foundation 500 Years”
• Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk
• Board of Fellows at the University of Tampa
• Secretary of the Florida Highway Patrol Advisory Council Executive Board of Directors
• Hillsborough County Commission Tourist Development Council
• Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association
• University of South Florida Foundation
• University of South Florida Athletic Task Force
• Chairman - University of South Florida Hall of Fame Selection Committee
• Advisory Committee for the Culinary Operations Academy for Hillsborough High Schools
• Tampa Bay Humane Society Advisory Board
Gonzmart’s professional memberships include:
• The Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, an organization founded in 1248 for the great chefs of Europe
• L’Ordre Mondial des Gourmets Degustateurs, promoting the culinary arts and wine while preserving the camaraderie and pleasures of the table.
In 1982, Gonzmart was appointed by President Reagan to the Selective Service Board serving 20 years as chairman of Tampa’s District 30 until the mandatory retirement in 2002.
Gonzmart has also served previously on the Board of Directors for:
• Chairman for the Board of Directors for Visit Tampa Bay
• Two terms on the Executive Committee and Board of Governors of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce
• Florida Council on Arts and Culture
• United Way
• J. Clifford McDonald Center
• The National Conference of Christians and Jews
• The Board of Fellows at the University of Tampa
• Two terms on the Board for the Straz Center for the Performing Arts
• Jesuit High School Foundation and the Board of Trustees
• Trustee of the Academy of the Holy Names
• President of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce
Richard was inducted into these Hall of Fames:
• 2010 Academy of the Holy Names Athletics Hall of Fame
• 2006 Florida Tourism Hall of Fame Florida Commission on Tourism
• 2003 Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame
• 2001 Florida State University Dedman School of Hospitality Hall of Fame
• 2000 Jesuit Athletic Hall of Fame
Richard has received many honors and awards, including:
• 2015 Luminaries Award from The Junior League of Tampa and WEDU
• 2015 Community Hero from The Tampa Bay Lightning
• 2015 Visionary Award on behalf of the Foundation Fighting Blindness
• 2014 Soul Award on behalf of Starting Right, Now
• 2014 Bill & Martha Minahan Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of N.O.T.E.
• 2013 Victor E. DiMaio Award on behalf of the Ybor City Lions Club
• 2012 Helen Ayala Davis Award on behalf of the Children’s Home
• 2012 Tampa Metro Civitan Club Citizen of the Year
• 2012 Outstanding Restaurateur James Beard Foundation Nominee
• 2012 Tampa Police Citizen of the Year by the Tampa Police Department
• 2011 Community Hero from the Boys and Girls Clubs
• 2011 Honorary Commander of MacDill Air Force Base
• 2011 Community Hero Big Brothers and Big Sisters
• 2010 Salesian Sisters of Villa Madonna School “Thanksgiving Basket Award”
• 2010 Lion’s Eye Institute Person of Vision
• 2010 American Association of State Troopers Spirit of the Trooper
• 2009 Vicente Martinez Ybor Legacy Award from the Ybor City Museum Society
• 2008 Rotary Club of Tampa’s Service Above Others Award
• 2008, Spirit of Philanthropy Award National Philanthropy Day
• 2007 St. Joseph’s Hospitals’ Community Benefactor
• 2006 Hispanic Man of the Year Tampa Hispanic Heritage, Inc.
• 2005 National Restaurant Association''s Humanitarian of the Year for Florida
• 2005 Top 20 Chefs in Florida by Restaurant Forum magazine
• 2005 Overall Winner - Minority Business Person of the Year" Tampa Bay Business Journal
• 2005 Father of the Year Diabetes Foundation
• 2004 Class of 1956 Award from the University of South Florida
• 2004 Citizen of the Year by the Tampa Sports Club
• 2003 Businessman of the Year by Magellan Media’s Que Pasa Hispanic Magazine
• 2001 Outstanding Citizen Optimist Club of Ybor City
• 2001 Alumni of the Year by the Academy of the Holy Names
• 2000 Alumni of the Year Jesuit High School
• 1996 Dr. Martin Luther King Drum Major Award
Family & Personal Interests
Richard has been married to his high school sweetheart and first love Melanie Heiny Gonzmart since 1973. They have two daughters, Lauren Gonzmart Schellman and Andrea Gonzmart; and both work for the family business at the corporate office. He has five grandchildren: twins Isabella and Michael, Maximilian, Alexander and Amelia. He is passionate about German Shepherds and breeds and shows world-class German Shepherd dogs around the world.
In addition, he is a marathon runner who has completed seventeen 26.2 mile marathons with the most recent completed being the Marine Corps Marathon held in Washington D.C. on October 30th, 2011.
Gonzmart dedicated his effort for 9-year-old Josalyn Kaldenberg of Iowa who is battling sarcoma cancer. She was scheduled to have her shoulder and arm amputated, but thanks to her mother, she found out about the program that Richard has dedicated much of his energy and resources to fund, headed by Dr. Doug Letson at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center.
Josalyn had a first ever procedure for North America at the Shriners Hospital in Tampa, with Dr. Letson replacing her shoulder, arm and elbow with a titanium and chrome prosthesis that can be expanded as she grows through magnetic equipment. This procedure allows Josalyn to have full use of her arm and she is once again playing the piano. Richard mailed her his marathon finishers medal and race number in hopes of inspiring Josalyn in her battle with sarcoma cancer.
Living life to the fullest and to celebrate his Spanish heritage, he has run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain on two occasions.
Richard also enjoys working with young people.
He previously served as a volunteer coach for the Jesuit High School JV football and track teams.
He also coached the Academy of the Holy Names girls track team for three years.
In 2006, he created “Richard’s Team for Kids,” a program to inspire elementary children to learn about running, developing self-confidence and self-esteem, while at the same time, promoting a habit of a healthy lifestyle. There are over 700 children participating in the program that is now called the “Let Me Play” program.
He is starting a new program promoting education and receiving good grades through mentoring and establishing goals for children who attend the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa. He is creating this program in remembrance of his friend, Lee Roy Selmon. The title of the program is not yet finalized, but will honor the memory of Mr. Selmon.
He was a guest teacher for Durant High School’s hospitality course for two years.
Richard also has lectured at both USF and UCF to students taking entry level courses on Hospitality.
He is often asked to speak to a USF Executive Business MBA class.
He also gave the commencement exercise speech to the University of South Florida Sarasota campus in 2005.
Richard is invited to Babson College annually, rated the #1 entrepreneurial school in the United States, as a speaker in Babson’s Ultimate Entrepreneurial Challenge Class. Over the last seven years he has consistently been named the #1 Guest Speaker.
He also speaks annually at a University of Tampa’s Family Business Course as well.
He is a presenting sponsor of Chapter VIII of the annual National “Police Unity Tour”, riding with the police over three days and 220 miles from Virginia to Washington D.C. with the bicycle ride ending at the Law Enforcement Memorial.
He has completed a nine week Tampa Police Citizens Training Academy.
He is also an Honorary Hillsborough County Deputy Sherriff.