Andrea Gonzmart: "You can't follow the fads"

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click to enlarge NOT YOUR TYPICAL PARTY GIRL: Andrea Gonzmart, co-manager of the Columbia Restaurant, would like to see Ybor City regain its identity as an historic district. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
NOT YOUR TYPICAL PARTY GIRL: Andrea Gonzmart, co-manager of the Columbia Restaurant, would like to see Ybor City regain its identity as an historic district.

Who? Andrea Gonzmart, fifth-generation member of the Hernandez-Gonzmart family, which founded the Columbia Restaurant in 1905.

Sphere of influence: Gonzmart began working at the Columbia Restaurant when she was just 10; now, at 28, she co-manages the Tampa landmark with other family members. She serves on the board of directors for Ybor City's Chamber of Commerce and Sarasota's Ringling Museum of Art. And, of course, she has the ear of her father, politically connected Columbia Restaurant president Richard Gonzmart, an influencer in his own right.

How she makes a difference: Gonzmart manages food quality and new recipe development for Columbia Restaurant's seven locations. She is also revamping the menu and style of Cha Cha Coconuts Bar and Grill, another Gonzmart family enterprise. Through the Ybor City Chamber, Gonzmart has organized various arts and food events that she hopes will turn around Ybor City's negative image. Last year, the Tampa Bay Business Journal and Gulf Coast Business Review recognized Gonzmart as a rising star for her restaurateuring, charity organizing and support for the arts.

CL: You were the first woman to work in the kitchen of the Columbia Restaurant. How was that?

Gonzmart: You It was weird, because they looked at me like, "What is she doing here?" On top of it, besides just being a woman, then they're like, "The owner's daughter is back here?" But everyone was very, very nice.

How has the restaurant had to change over the years to remain relevant to the times?

Perfect example: Back in the '50s, canned vegetables were the "in" thing. So we had a canned salad; basically everything on the salad was from a can, except for the lettuce. And my father said [to Cesar Gonzmart], "Dad, I think we need to remove it." My grandfather was like, "No, no, it's been on the menu for years, we can't remove it." So finally, [my father] had to remove it.

That kind of goes back to the whole fad thing — you can't follow the fads. Sometimes something gets on the menu, and it doesn't get removed when it needs to be removed. And I can see that eventually happening with my father. Maybe something's on the menu and I'm going to be like, "Dad, we got to get rid of it," and he's not going to want to, but he's trying to relinquish some of his authority. He's trying. [laughs]

Should Ybor City be a historic district or a party district?

Historic. A few years back, when the whole nightclub/bar thing started happening, I was just graduating from high school, so I thought it was the best thing ever. But I don't think that was the best route for Ybor, looking back.

It's attracting the wrong crowd. The 18-and-up clubs are just a bad influence on Ybor, creating lots of problems. I think it is a historic district, and I think we really should concentrate on the artists that are here, the businesses that are moving in and the restaurants, because it really could be a huge asset to Tampa.

Is there a line of succession for when your father retires?

What we're doing right now is active family planning. We've hired a gentleman outside of the company who comes in and mediates our family meetings (we do them quarterly) just to keep the lines of communication open. There is no set succession plan. I'm sure my father has his idea on which way he'd like it to go, and I'm sure my uncle has his way he'd like to see it go. But it's not guaranteed that any of us would be a head. We have to earn it, and they have to feel comfortable we are going to carry the torch on.

How do you feel about your father and uncle leaving the Krewe of the Knights of Sant'Yago after vulgar remarks by a DJ on their boat?

I actually I think I'm the one that brought it to my father's attention when we were out on the boat with him. I was always so proud to be part of the krewe, because I always looked at them as different than some of the other krewes, because it was never allowed for the men to act like that. ... It saddens me, because it was something my grandfather was so proud of [Cesar Gonzmart founded the krewe 40 years ago]. To see it declining and becoming that, it just upsets me.

Where do you think Tampa Bay ranks as a food capital?

I think in the last couple years, Tampa really has gotten a lot of restaurants in, which has been great. It opens the variety up, and you're not just turning and seeing a chain on this corner and this corner. We have a lot more options, but I think we have a lot more growing to do.

I would personally [not] like to see the large restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory coming in. I'd rather have the eclectic cool little restaurant I found just by chance. Like there's a restaurant down the street, Laughing Cat. When I found it, it was so cool. Little restaurants like that, I think, would be more valuable and more interesting.

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