August 19, 2019

Florida Icon

Icon: Richard Gonzmart

President, Columbia Restaurant chain, Tampa; age 58

Art Levy | 2/22/2012

Richard Gonzmart
Richard Gonzmart [Photo: Michael Heape]
» My grandfather always told me, when business is slow, that's when you paint the restaurant. It shows strength. It shows you have confidence. Now, during the economic downturn, I'm investing in our properties. We're not downsizing. That's how you improve the economy.

» When I was 12 years old, I started working in the restaurant washing dishes. My father didn't want me washing dishes, but I wanted to. I learned how hard that work is. The dishwasher is the lowest-paid employee, operating the most expensive piece of equipment, responsible for the sanitation of every eating utensil and glass item for every customer. I hold them in the highest respect.

» The way I look at it, and the way I hope my children will look at it, is this business is a legacy started by my great-grandfather. If you sell it, what good is money if you don't have a purpose in life?

» Back in the '40s and '50s, if you used canned vegetables, that was considered really high class, luxurious. After I got out of college and came back, the first thing I did was get rid of the canned vegetables.

» Our 106 years of success can be ruined by one visit. You're only as good as the last meal.

» I learned 20 years ago that I have a learning disability. It was obvious in school, but nobody knew it. I'm dyslexic and I have ADHD. This is not a weakness. It's my strength, my creativity. But it has taught me that I have to hire people to execute what I want done because I've got a thousand things going on. I love chaos.

» My favorite at lunchtime is boliche, stuffed eye round with chorizo. It's not a good seller, but I won't ever take it off the menu.

» People start treating a family business as their personal bank account. You can't do that. That's the demise of any family business — or company.

» My wife and I go to Spain three times a year on business, and I love the food, but I also love Thai and Vietnamese food. I like the freshness of Asian food, the quick preparation, the vegetables.

» What I dislike is people putting salt on the food before they taste it.

» When I was a kid, I was in the 4-H. I had a Black Angus I refused to show in the fair because I didn't want it to get sold and butchered. Some people thought I was going to be a vet because I love animals so much. I don't hunt. I can't stand killing anything. Although I've run with the bulls in Spain, I don't like bullfighting. I admire the bulls, their power.

» When I make a decision, I think about how I'm impacting the 850 people who work for us. I can't be careless with their lives. When the economy was going down, my CFO said we have to cut the 401(k). I said no.

» I've run 16 or 17 marathons. I really hate running marathons.

» The Cuban sandwich is really a Tampa sandwich. There's no Cuban sandwich per se. In Miami, they do a Cuban sandwich, but it's different. They don't do the salami. The Tampa sandwich is an immigrant sandwich. The salami is from the Italians. The ham from the Spanish. The pork from the Cubans. The cheese, the mustard, the pickles from the Germans. I have menus from the '40s that called it the mixed sandwich.

» Until you love an animal, your soul has not been awakened.

» I'm no saint, but I've never asked a woman to show me her boobs. At Gasparilla, we're out there to show respect for our heritage, not to be jerks. So a few years ago, I took a stand and I resigned from the krewe that was founded by my father. I'm not in the parade anymore.

» If it was up to me, I'd have chickens and a dozen dogs at my house.

» The day after Lee Roy Selmon died, I prayed to God, I said, 'Lord, help me to be kind and gentle like Lee Roy Selmon.' Ten minutes later, I was all fired up about something. OK, I'm not a Lee Roy Selmon.

» I can remember feeling stupid because the way I read is different. I always want to read right to left. It makes it tough.

» My dogs love me. It's unconditional love. My dog Rusty, he would literally die for me. I only wish I could be half the man my dogs think I am.

» People think I don't sleep, but I do. I wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning and start sending e-mails. I sign off my e-mails 'Here's to life' because that's all we have. Life is short. It's fleeting. That's why I wake up early. I'm trying to get two lives out of one.

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