YBOR CITY, Fla. – Did you know that Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City is Florida’s oldest restaurant?
What first began in 1905 as the Columbia Saloon, a small corner cafe where cigar workers gathered, is now the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, with a seating capacity of over a thousand people.
The popular restaurant near Tampa continues to be operated and owned by Casimiro Hernández’s family. Andrea Gonzmart is Hernández’s great-great-granddaughter, an immigrant from Spain who lived in Cuba prior to arriving in the United States.
“When he initially immigrated from Cuba at the turn of the century he wanted to give, you know, the comfort foods of home,” Andrea said.
One of those dishes is the popular Cuban sandwich made with ham, roast pork, salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and pickles on top of Cuban bread.
The restaurant features a more than five thousand square-foot kitchen and has fifteen different dining rooms. All designed with a Spanish style.
Ceramic Spanish tiles were imported from Spain to decorate the restaurant. Other artifacts inside the restaurant reflect the family’s heritage.
Among the several dining rooms is one dedicated to a famous Spanish novel.
“The Don Quixote dining room was actually the first air-conditioned dining room in the city of Tampa,” Gonzmart noted.
Back in 1956, the Siboney room, a large showroom, was popular for bringing in some top Latin performers. It was during the era when the cigar industry started to disappear in the city.
"It brought people back to Ybor and that was the important thing," Andrea said.
Other dining rooms include the Patio room, which offers a feel of the Spanish courtyards and the Red dining room which was a bar prior to being remodeled.
“We have the original Terraza that we found all around the border,” Andrea said.
Columbia Restaurant is not just known for its food and its size -- it’s also known for its variety of wine.
“We actually have over 1,000 bottled wine list, which makes up about 80 percent Spanish wines and 20 percent Californians, South American wines,” Andrea said. “The fact that I can look back and see that my great-great-grandfather founded what now is a whole city block but a small corner café restaurant in 1905, it’s kind of mind-blowing.”
Central Floridians can visit the Columbia Restaurant in Celebration. Click here to see the menu.