Stetson honors late Ybor City restaurateur Cesar Gonzmart Successful businessman was knighted by the King of Spain

Contact Frank Klim
Executive Director of Communications

Gulfport, Fla. – Stetson University will honor late Ybor City leader Dr. Cesar Gonzmart with a 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award during Stetson’s Trustee Dinner Thursday, May 19, at the historic Columbia Restaurant, owned and operated by Gonzmart’s children and grandchildren. The original Columbia is located at 2117 East 7th Avenue in Tampa.

Gonzmart, who died in 1992, married into the Columbia’s founding family and began guiding the restaurant in the 1950s. The distinguished Hispanic businessman was knighted by the King of Spain in 1971 as a Knight of Sant’Yago, the patron saint of Spain. He was named Outstanding Restaurateur by Holiday magazine, and the Columbia was a 12-time winner of Florida Trend magazine’s Golden Spoon Award. In 1993, Gonzmart was inducted posthumously into the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame and in 1995 was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Restaurant Association.

Under his leadership, the Columbia expanded to six Florida locations, including Sarasota and St. Augustine. In 2005, the restaurant celebrates its 100th anniversary with the opening of its seventh restaurant in West Palm Beach.

Gonzmart retained an artistic flair with his business, moving about the restaurant in a tuxedo, charming the patrons and often playing the violin. Born Cesar Gonzalez-Martinez in West Tampa, he began violin lessons at age 6. By his early 20s he was traveling the world as a concert violinist. He changed his name to Gonzmart, using the first part of his parents’ surnames, and formed the performing group Cesar Gonzmart and his Continental Orchestra, which played major hotels across the country. He studied violin at Stetson on a scholarship for several years beginning in 1937, and went on to earn a doctorate in music from the University of Havana, Cuba.

He married concert pianist Adela Hernandez in 1946, and they performed together through the early 1950s. She was the only child of Carmen and Casimiro Hernandez Jr., and the granddaughter of Casimiro Hernandez Sr., who founded the Columbia Restaurant in 1905. In 1953, when her father’s health was failing, the Gonzmarts returned to Tampa with their sons, Casey and Richard, and settled down to run the restaurant.