TAMPA, Fla. — The Columbia Restaurant withstood a history of hardships since it first opened in 1905.
It is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. It is still owned by the founding family.
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Richard Gonzmart is the great-grandson of Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the founder of the world-famous Columbia Restaurant in Tampa’s historic Ybor City.
Gonzmart has temporarily closed the restaurant after the governor ordered all restaurants to close or switch to delivery and take out.
"We're protecting our staff instead of trying to expose them," said Gozmart.
The decision was made to shut down dining areas in restaurants as coronavirus spreads across the country.
"I never thought something like this would happen. I feel like I'm part of a bad science fiction movie. We have 1,400 people that depend on me and that's what hurts the most," said Gonzmart.
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Gonzmart said the restaurant has survived a history of hardships.
"We've gone through the Spanish Flu in 1918, the Prohibition, you had the Great Depression, World War I, World War II where food was rationed like we're seeing rationing now," said Gonzmart.
Gonzmart said he is finding several ways to help his employees, including providing their families with meals.
Columbia Restaurant is also selling gift cards and the proceeds through April will help employees.
So far, the restaurant has sold more than $44,000 in gift cards in just four days.
"My depression is I wish I could help them more and I want to give them hope that we will be fine," said Gonzmart.
Gonzmart hopes to get his employees working again soon.
"Some have been furloughed. We asked others to take a 50% pay reduction. Personally, I am going to join everybody and furloughed myself," he said.
He said the restaurant will be back open to celebrate life's special moments.
"I'm a person of great faith. We will overcome this as a country and as a world. I think it will be a kinder, gentler place to live," he added.