Why do they call it that? The Columbia Restaurant and 1905 Day 2011 information

8:38 AM, Sep 14, 2011   |    comments
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The 1905 Salad, a signature dish of the Columbia Restaurant.

This place is more than a restaurant. It's a connection right back to the immigrants who first settled in Ybor City and Tampa. But how did the Columbia Restaurant get its famous name?

Why do they call it the Columbia Restaurant?

Come on in and they'll whip you up a Cuban classic -- just like their great, great, great, grandma used to make.

Let's head back to 1905. Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. had been in America just a couple of years.

He went into business. His target? The empty stomachs of immigrants.

"A small corner cafe serving Cuban coffee, Cuban sandwiches, other classic dishes like ropa vieja -- the comfort foods that people knew from their homeland," explained Andrea Gonzmart.

"He fit that need for those cigar rollers. And that made them feel like they were at home in Ybor City."

Gonzmart may know this place better than her home.

She's the fifth generation of her family with a hand in this iconic Ybor City eatery.

The original Columbia Cafe covered just a few hundred square feet. It still survives today, almost perfectly intact, as the restaurant's bar area.

Things have changed. The restaurant now covers an entire city block. It goes on through 15 dining rooms with seats for 1,700.

"My great-grandfather, you know, there was days that we made no money. And he said he would -- he was gonna close the restaurant," Gonzmart said.

"But then great friends, great patrons, kinda always pushed him through it and said, 'You can't close the Columbia Restaurant. People -- you know, we count on the Columbia Restaurant being there.'"

"A lot of people get confused, they say, 'Oh, Colombia! Oh, you have Colombian food.' It's Columbia -- C-o-l-u-m-b-i-a," Gonzmart said.

Columbia is an old, old wooden ship. In fact, it was the first American ship to sail around the world.

Legend has it, the restaurant's founders wanted to honor their new country. And at the time, Columbia was a common nickname for the United States.

It's also in the title of a patriotic song popular back then called Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Sunday, September 18th, 2011 is "1905 Day" at all of the Columbia's restaurant locations. From noon to 7 p.m., prices are cut back to what they were years ago.

The delicious 1905 Salad is $1.95, and Sangria is less than a dollar.

Locations taking part are Ybor City in Tampa, Sarasota, St. Augustine, The Pier in St. Petersburg, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, and Celebration.

The Columbia Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center will not offer the discounted prices, but will be open for business that day.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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