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Columbia Restaurant Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Interviewee(s): Luis Diaz (LD) and Helen Diaz (HD) Interview by: Andrew (Andy) Huse (AH) Interview date: October 9, 2006 Inte rview location: Diaz residence; Tampa, FL Transcribed by: Karen Mayo Transcription date: Audit Edit by: Cyrana Wyker Audit Edit date: March 28, 2007 Final Edit by: Catherine Cottle Final Edit date: July 25, 2008 Andrew Huse : It is October 9, 2006 and th is is Andy Huse once again. I'm with today Luis 1 and Helen Diaz. First of all thank you for sitting down with me today. Let's just talk a little bit first about the family. I have a few questions for you. I guess we will just start with the set questions then we will go from there and then any time you want to chime in, or there is something that I don't ask but you think that is important to mention. We're looking for everything here, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Okay, where in Asturias is the Gonzale s Martinez family from? Is it Pravia? Luis Diaz : We're not from Salas and Martinez, that's two different towns altogether that came from everywhere in Asturias. AH: Okay LD: Neither Gonzales neither Martinez were the original from, we're talking about the original, it had to be a lady by the name of Modesta, which was the great grandmother of Richard and Casey. AH: Okay, Modesta. LD: Modesta was one of the sisters that came from Spain as an immigrant. She married Francisco Gonzales. Francisco Gonzales obvi ously has one daughter, Aurora. Excuse me, I apologize. Francisco Martinez. She has one, two daughters, Concha and Aurora. Those are the only two daughters. They didn't have no sons. So, Aurora has one son, only one and Concha never had any children. Conch a is still alive. A hundred and three years old. AH: Oh, wow. 1 [Transcriber's note: Luis Diaz is a cousin of Cesar Gonzmart. According to Interviewer Andy Huse, the cousins grew up in Cuba, and then later, Cesar was instrumental in bringing Luis to Tampa.]
2 LD: She's a little she's out there. Anyway, she is very much part of the history. Aurora had one son, Cesar Gonzmart. Cesar, actually it was Gonzales Martinez. Obviously you have been told that many times. AH: Yes. LD: Cesar very clever to put two names together. Not to offend anybody. Very commercial, very intelligent man, Gonzmart. And they become one of the big names in Tampa. (inaudible) Adela, Richard and Casey; that is where you are up to t oday AH: Yes. LD: but the people that came in from Spain came in from various small parts of Pravia, by a village by the name of Redivina. AH: Okay, so Pravia is a province then? LD: Pravia is actually not a province. It is like a county of Asturia. The capital of Asturia is Oviedo. Then to the north Oviedo, there is a small town by the name of Pravia. Pravia obviously had many little neighborhoods, village very primitive. From one by the name of Redivina the family came from I'm talking about the part o f the family that I represent. But most everybody that came in, the Martinez and the Gonzales, everybody came from Asturia from a different village. I can't recall the name of the other one because Richard and Melanie can tell you about that, but I can tel l you my part. Beyond that you tell me what else you may need to know from the Asturias. AH: Okay, any family from Oviedo? She included that in her question, too [AH referring to a list of questions]. LD: Oviedo was the capital. No one was from Oviedo. AH : Okay. Just making sure. LD: Oviedo is like the central point; it is like talking about Tallahassee [in relation to] Tampa. It is a big city in Asturias and when you're there everybody goes to Oviedo but then everybody gets in little trains and buses. Pra via is like, we're like in the center of Asturias' capital and we have to go north to Pravia. Pravia is a small village, very pretty. AH: Okay, and so you said it's close to the coast? LD: Very close to the Cantabrian Sea. AH: All right. I think you just c overed this, the names of Aurora and Conchita's parents? You just mentioned that right? LD: Modesta Diaz and Francisco Martinez.
3 AH: Okay, those are the parents. LD: But remember in America, you lose the name. The ladies lose the name in the marriage. AH : Yes. LD: Lately, they are keeping the name and that is strange. AH: Yes, well, it makes it easier to trace your family, too. She had put a question mark about Don Pancho? LD: Don Pancho is Francisco Martinez. AH: That's Don Pancho. LD: That is the grea t grandfather of the kids. AH: Okay, it says the siblings of both parents, and I guess she LD: Aurora and Concha. AH: Yes, and then the siblings of did Francisco have siblings? LD: No, no, Francisco had only two, when you say siblings you mean the daught ers too, right? AH: No, I think siblings mean brothers and sisters. That's what I always thought. LD: Francisco was alone. AH: He was alone. Okay. LD: And Modesta was alone, because my father came with Modesta from Spain to Tampa. My father was the first c ommunist. He couldn't fit into the way of thinking of the Tampa. He was always involved in bettering things for the employees and workers. A leader within a family that wasn't too sympathetic to leaders. So, he had to leave Tampa to go to Cuba. AH: Okay, s o let's go into this then a little more then. Your father he was, was he in a union then? LD: No, he created the union. AH: He created the union.
4 LD: In the cigar industry. AH: Do you remember what the name of the union was? LD: Well, I don't remember the name but I can go and do a little research on that, but my father was like a very brilliant leader that was extremely intelligent in labor relations. He was also a poet. A poet of tremendous quality. No little (inaudible) poet. A poet with pages and pages of poetry, very intelligent. I look at his poetry in Spanish and I get mesmerized by the quality of the English, I mean, Spanish. Very brilliant and honest man. My father was in Tampa when Francisco Martinez owned the (inaudible). He was like a young kid w ho they tried to protect, but my father was a rebel. He had to leave Tampa, because it was very uncomfortable for him to remain in Tampa, so he left for Cuba. AH: Okay, so this was as a result of labor LD: Labor disturbance of the twenties [1920s]. AH: Yes because there was a lot of people run out of town. LD: That's true. My father was one of them. AH: Wow, that's certainly a Tampa tradition and Ybor City that the unions were very strong. You don't remember the name of the union, was it La Resistancia? LD : You're talking about the name of the union? AH: Yes. LD: I couldn't remember. I know it was something to do with the Brotherhood of the Cigar Worker, you know. Something to that nature. It was probably an assigned number that used to be on the unions at that time. But my father was one of the leaders, and being a leader he the family, just to give you and idea how nice the family was the family wants my father out of that (inaudible) problem because he was nothing but problem. My father was a dreamer. The y even helped him to create a coffee shop in West Tampa. So my father had a coffee shop and sandwiches and everything. And he couldn't believe in people going hungry, so he would feed the workers who didn't have any means to be fed for free so he lost his business, he was a very poor business man. AH: So, this was in the 1920s that he had a coffee shop? LD: That is correct. I would say in the middle twenties [1920s]. AH: Okay.
5 LD: So, my father lost the business and he was pretty soon one hand in the front and one hand in the back. AH: Do you remember the name of the coffee shop? LD: I can't remember it, sorry, I don't remember AH: Okay, I was just curious. Well, I could probably look it up and find out. LD: It probably was a very humble sandwich shop, yo u know. I doubt that you can, that was in the West Tampa section. AH: Well, the city directories, they list this kind of information. I might (inaudible) using your father's name. LD: It could be. It would be Luis Diaz Lopez. AH: What is the name? LD: Lui s Diaz Lopez AH: Luis Diaz Lopez. Okay, I will look for that for you. I'd like to find that. LD: Okay. AH: So, he had to leave Tampa and go to Cuba. LD: That was a good idea. It was suggested by Francisco Martinez. He made a great idea because he saved his butt on two or three occasions. AH: So, what did he do when he got back to Cuba? LD: He went as a merchant. He got to Cuba and he became a merchant. He became a widow in Cuba from the lady, a Spanish lady he married in Tampa. A lady by the name of Luisa. She died of some appendix attack, at the time it was AH: Oh, yes. LD: He married, a second like a (inaudible) my mother. When you know the history of my mother (inaudible). They knew each other. The second marriage after being a widow was my mother. That 's where I came from. AH: So, he met her in Cuba then? LD: My mother was born in Cuba.
6 AH: Okay. LD: When he left for Cuba, he was already married to a Tampa lady. A Spanish lady from Tampa, by the name of Luisa. AH: But then she died and he got remarried LD: That is exactly correct. AH: So then you were born to his second wife. LD: Which is my mother. AH: And what is her name? LD: Libia. L I B I A, Libia. AH: Okay, and then so you grew where in Cuba? LD: Cuba. AH: But where in Cuba, what city? LD: Havan a. AH: Havana. Okay. LD: In Center Havana. AH: At what point did you come to Tampa? LD: Well, I was growing up in Cuba. (inaudible) knew about the country, and I was very well informed about the ways American, and I always dreamed about coming to this cou ntry. When I got in my twenties, Batista was in power in Cuba, it was very uncomfortable. I was very much anti Batista. I had the feelings like my father, you know, to fight the things that were impossible. [Don] Quixote type of thing. AH: (laughing) Yes, you were a rebel too. LD: I would like to say I was, but the fact of the matter was I was a little innocent. I wasn't as courageous as my father. AH: Yes. LD: I did my little thing against Batista. And I had an encounter with an officer and two soldiers an d that was the last of my great adventures in Cuba. They take me to a boat and
7 I say, "Time for me to go." So, when I go into that crisis in 1953 I wrote to Cesar. To Cesar and Adela, excuse me. And I asked them for the opportunity to come as a legal immig rant to this country. Which they did immediately. And I came into this country on the twenty eighth of March, 1953. AH: Okay. LD: Cesar and Adela immediately after a few days put me to work at the Columbia Restaurant as a bus boy. AH: Okay, now I want to get back to this, so we will put a bookmark there. I have a few more family questions before we get to the restaurant. Melanie has no clue of the names of Marcelino's parents? LD: Neither do I. AH: Okay, you don't know either. LD: I probably had them men tioned to me, but I probably forgot them. That can be found out very easily. AH: Okay, then what about the names of Marcelino's siblings? Brothers, sisters? LD: I never have the pleasure of meeting them. AH: Okay. LD: I knew Marcelino and Aurora just as a couple when they came over here, I knew them in Cuba. I never had the opportunity to meet the rest of the family. I knew there were others but I never had the opportunity. AH: Okay, now she also asked, what about Jose Sierra, Concha's husband? LD: Jose S ierra was also from the province of Asturia. A very set man, very much on the style of Francisco Martinez. Very serious man, very (inaudible), very industrious. Concha and him made a great couple. Very hardworking, very thrifting. When I met them they inhe rit the hardware store Francisco owned in Columbus [Avenue] and 22 nd Street. Beautiful hardware store. Very elegant. Very recognized by the public. So when of the passing of the age, you know, when Francisco Martinez when it was time for him to retire they passed the hardware store to Concha and Jose. They worked very diligently there. They made a success. It was already a success but they continued the success. AH: What decade was this in or what LD: When I first came to this country in the forties [1940 s], it was already there but it was through the Second World War the hardware was there and those hard times.
8 AH: Okay. LD: And they were very successful. AH: Did Concha and Jose already run it by World War II? LD: Yes, they always were there. That was th e business of the family. AH: Yes, but when did Francisco pass it off to them? LD: I would say in the fifties [1950s]. The early fifties. AH: I see. Okay. What about his sisters? She says he was the only male. What were his sister's names? LD: We're talkin g about AH: Jose Sierra. LD: I know he had a sister but I never have the pleasure of meeting the family. You know, with families (inaudible), you don't try to get into the political side of the family. I never had the opportunity. I knew about it but HD: At that time it wasn't like it is today. So, we really don't know anything about the family from his side either. LD: I knew by relations, you know, that there was a sister and things like that, you know, more than one sister I can tell you. I never had t he opportunity to meet them. AH: Now she asks this, she wants you to answer were he and Concha really loan sharks? LD: With me they were. (Luis and Helen laughing) AH: Okay, they were. Tell me how that works. LD: Well, in a very nice way Cesar I asked Cesa r when I went to buy first home for my wife and me and two of my children in Carmen Street in West Tampa Helen Diaz : In 1959. LD: In 1959. I didn't have the money you know. It was a time when a thousand dollars was a big down payment and I went to Cesar a nd I asked for the money. Cesar says, "Luis I am look ing for somebody to loan me money." It was lean times in Tampa. So he says, "Why don't you go to Concha, she's loaded." So I had good relations with Concha and I went to the hardware store to the second floor where they were living, and I told them that I need a thousand dollars for my family. And I say, Concha I promise you that
9 I will honor my debt, you know. I never ask anybody for money but this is for my home. And she told me it was a very positiv e thing that I ask for down payment for a home. Well, she says, Luisito I well lend you a thousand dollars. And I said "B ut you don't have to rely off the interests of our money so I am going to have to charge you simple interest, six percent." It came up to, never forgot it, $44.33. AH: (laughing) That's all. LD: I paid that for two years religiously. The first thing that come out of my house was $44.33. In the last months I was so happy because I put together $88.66. I said, "I don't owe you anything. And that was the end of that. I was in good terms with her. I paid my debt. So AH: So, wait, the $44 that was your what, your monthly payment? LD: No, that was my monthly payment for two years. AD: For two years, okay. LD: Forty four dollars and thirty three cents. Helen Diaz: We returned the thousand dollars with interest. AH: Yes. LD: And I went to Cesar and I said how disappointed I was that they charged me interest, and Cesar said I am too but that's their business. AD: Yes, I see. LD: It looks like she was looking for sorry people, but I don't have any proof that that is the case. In my case, that's the case. (laughing) AH: So, they were thrifty and saved lots of money and they were able to LD: Extremely thrifty. HD: (inaudible) LD: They can g et a lettuce and make the lettuce and everything will be used on the lettuce. At the time we take the outside leaves and we dispose of the outside leaves to the rabbits or whatever, [to them] everything was vitamins and everything. So, they will eat the wh ole lettuce. (laughing) Very, very capable people. Very honest. Frugal to the HD: Frugal to the
10 AH: To the extreme. LD: Extremely honest and straightforward. AH: I hear Helen was laughing here. Tell me about some of these memories here. What other thin gs besides lettuce HD: We were invited to Concha's house one day for dinner, early dinner, and me, I help in the kitchen and it's just my nature. So, I went and I start making the salad and everything and I am accustomed to take the Romaine lettuce, the o utside away if it's bad or green or something or irregular. So, here I was taking this lettuce head, the real green leaves from the lettuce and I went to discard it and she says, "O h no ," she says "W e use the things. You don't throw anything away. (laugh ing) HD: I said, "Okay." We have been writing this for years. That was, my god, my son will be forty nine, you talking back forty eight years. So, it's a while back. AH: They were very serious about being frugal. HD: Yes. Oh, yes. AH: Okay, well that tells you a lot, because a lot of times because those leaves are dirty too. HD: Those lettuce have to be used to the last green leaf, and they were green. AH: Okay, and then she asked, "D o they know anything about the hardware store?" And we just talked about that. LD: I knew. AH: And did that have a name, or do you remember? LD: I think it was the Columbus Hardware Store. AH: Columbus, okay. LD: Run by the Sierra family. AH: Okay. Do you remember anything about Aurora's mother's suicide? LD: Oh, they didn't t alk about the suicide. That is area that is very delicate. That is when you start to be very delicate. The story that I was told, in Cuba wasn't exactly very, very It's like you try to keep something in the family hidden. You know, I don't think I have the freedom to tell you what my family told me in privacy, you know.
11 AH: Okay. That's okay. LD: It was something that it was a tragedy. She was an angel. That woman was the typical example of perfection. The goodness flowed through her body and she just threw away her life. You know that's got to be some area of serious discomfort. AH: Okay. All right I understand. Just to understand, it was Melanie's question. LD: And that's the answer for Melanie. AH: Okay, that's fine. And so she wanted to know what happe ned afterward. LD: Well, what happened afterward, you know, she was in control of her family, you know, and she took excellent care of Francisco for Aurora the mother of Cesar. And she took excellent care of her father, and wherever she went her father wen t with her, and he was a character. He was one of the most amusing individuals I have ever known in my life. The worst driver that I have ever seen. (laughing) AH: Now, this is Cesar's grandfather? LD: Cesar's grandfather, Francisco Martinez. He was the wo rst driver. He drive over sidewalks like it was part of the street. He was a wonderful human being. I remember him with a great deal of kind and affection. AH: And he was funny too. LD: Yes, absolutely right. He was hurt by, I think it was a stroke and the stroke kind of moved the mouth sideways. AH: Yes, I've seen pictures yes. LD: And he got a beautiful mustache and a gray beard. He looked very handsome in my own opinion. He was very healthy specimen. Big boy. He spoke like Popeye. You know. AH: Yes. LD: We remember Casey and Richard loved the guy to death. You know, he was funny. He was a man that allowed himself to be loved by children. Very easy to get along with him. He did well in his life in America. He was a very successful young man. AH: Okay, an d she asked what happened afterward. Do you have anything else there? LD: No, no you understand me that I'm talking about Francisco Martinez. Richard and Casey were looking for they got a beautiful (inaudible) tree peach when they live on Davis Islands and the grandfather trying to play with the children (inaudible).
12 HD: He climbed the ladder. LD: And the ladder fell down and he broke the hip (inaudible). At that time he developed pneumonia pretty soon and it was over. HD: I think he was about ninety years when that happened (inaudible). LD: Ninety years somewheres. AH: Okay. LD: A wonderful human being. That is the guy that is for women were you know I look upon him for (inaudible). Casey and Richard had the grandest of time with him. AH: So, it must have b een a blow to lose then LD: It was, it was for everybody. AH: Yes but especially since she took such good care of him right. LD: Aurora suffered a great deal when her father passed away. There is no question. Everybody, everybody was taken aback by the d eath of the old man. Very well liked. Tremendously well liked. AH: Okay, well she says this, I'll only share this with you. I don't expect you to say anything more about this, but she just said, I know what Adela told me but there's got to be more about the suicide. LD: Adela probably knows much more than I do. AH: Okay. Do you remember any stories of the baby Cesar? Aurora's first born. LD: (inaudible) AH: Okay. LD: The baby was one of a kind, you know he brought not to hurt his fingers or anything be cause the guy had promise. Great plans for him with his hands for the violin. When he was growing up in West Tampa, which was full with rowdy kids, you know, all the time, everything was done by hand. Cesar was kept aloof from most of the children, so it w as hard for him to be lonely you know. He was the privileged kid in West Tampa. AH: I see.
13 LD: And the first time I knew him by (inaudible) by how great a violinist he was, where he studied and those stories were filtered to Cuba through the letters of Mo desta, her grandmother. That I met Cesar for the first time when he went to Cuba. AH: Okay and this is still when he was a young man? LD: A young man, a very young man, probably at that time, Cesar was ten years older than I. He was twenty one, so I was p robably eleven or twelve. AH: And you had heard about him for so long. Did he fit the description of what you thought he would have been like? LD: (inaudible) Description. I mean I saw him first time in Cuba which was a hot Sunday. I'll never forget the day. He was dressed the coat, it was a warm coat that you wear in the winter over here. Big shoulders you know, at that time it was like those guys had the big chain. There was a name for those kids that dressed overly dressed, long pants. Cesar has the pa nts very high, and he has this coat that was bigger two sizes than he was. AH: Almost like a Zoot suit. LD: That's basically what it was. Basically I mean, you could see that it was well cut the clothes. And his shoes very large for the regular Cuban guy, you know two tone shoes. I was overly impressed. I says, "T his guy he's got it. AH: And how did he act? He looked good LD: He act the part. He was always a show man. Cesar was born a showman. He was bigger than life, you know. He was walking the street s of poor Havana like he owned it. You know, people would look, whatever he cross, people will follow him. (AH laughing) Most amusing guy. AH: Okay, she says I know you were way too young he was way too young, but do you have any knowledge or hearsay of baby Luis's time at the Columbia? She seems to think that you came there as a child, as a baby? LD: No, no, you're talking about me? AH: Well, she just wrote well, "I know he was way too young, but does he have any knowledge or hearsay of baby Luis's tim e at the Columbia?" Oh, hearsay. I think what she means is the baby. Maybe Cesar's first baby? LD: Yes, that I knew very well. AH: Okay, well
14 LD: Cesar married a lady that was in show business and he brought her to Cuba, and they was Fantasia like a fant asy, Fantasia. Very strong woman, very powerful woman. She was in control of the house. That's the only area where Cesar really became the (AH laughing) second fiddle. She really run the show, and they had a baby after a while and the baby was Cesar Gonzma rt, Jr. Cesar was the biggest kid on the block he looked like he was injected with vitamin, you know. When kids were two feet tall, he was three feet tall. A very well taken care of, babysitters, there [were] no babysitters in Cuba. He had a babysitter. So he grew up in Cuba. Obviously, the rest of this story becomes (inaudible) you know, here comes Adela into the life of Cesar. They get together in Cuba. They knew each other from Tampa. They make plans to marry when he gets divorce, and that was the means of Cesar from Cuba. He left and when he left, I was left with one hand on my back and one hand on my front. Very (inaudible) man. AH: And now what do you mean when you say that one hand on my back and one hand my front? LD: That Cesar used to come up wi th ideas about things that were not exactly the best. He was an entrepreneur. He was always coming up with ideas, and I was always part of that. Whatever thing he had in Cuba, I was a willing participant. AH: Yes, so that when he left it kind of left yo u LD: Well AH: In a lurch a little bit? LD: no, no (inaudible) but dreams, and he was a dreamer, and I like a man that dreams. AH: Okay, so when you don't really know what to do next that's what you mean by "one hand in "? LD: One hand in the front and one hand in back. AH: Okay, I understand now. LD: And he left and I always had the I didn't really have a sense that I would meet Cesar again to share a life. I kept on going, went to college and that time was very penurious to go to college because there were a lot of controversy of things political things in the streets and the students were very much part of the upheaval. AH: So, this is still in Cuba? LD: I am in Cuba at that time. AH: So, that's where you kind of got rebellious against Batista?
15 LD: Y es, because he broke the constitution al process, he says, I'm here because I am the boss, rather than AH: He became a dictator basically. LD: From the moment that he broke the process of elections, he was a dictator as far as I was concerned. And I keep on making mistake after mistake and I [have to] leave Havana for the farms. I was on the farms [when] I had my last incident (inaudible) AH: What farms? What is this? Where? LD: Cuba is six provinces. And I left Havana, was born and raised in Havana; I h ad to leave Havana because they felt like my life was in jeopardy. So, I went to the farms to work in the farms that were subsidized by the government, and I went to farms that were growing rice. Rice is very important to the way of doing business. So, I w as there and I, because of my education, or whatever, my mathematics. I was helped to get in the position of head of the central farm, you know, the control of the gas for the tractors and for the combines and everything. I was in charge that and the payro ll. AH: So, I still don't know what you meant about knowledge or hearsay about a baby. Okay, now we are going to go back to our bookmark when you came to Tampa. Take us from the farm to Tampa. How did you get from one place to the other? LD: Well, I knew Cesar being the effective person that he was and all his influence in Tampa. I sent him a letter like this week, and within three weeks I have an answer from him. I'm going to cover the papers, and the affidavits, and the bonds and everything, so I was you to come over here and work with him. And I within three or fours weeks I was ready to leave Cuba. And I left Cuba, everything clear, you know, all the papers clear with some of my bigger papers. I remember that I came in an airline by the name of Aerovas Q, that was a very nice plane to the Tampa airport. And I went to live at that time for a few days with Aurora y Marcelino, they kept me home, fed me well, et cetera et cetera. And within two or three days, we found one of those rooming house in Ybor Cit y, and I went to live in the rooming house, five dollars a week, and I went to work as bus boy at the Columbia. It was perfection. AH: All right, just so I understand, Marcelino was married to Aurora then? Okay, that's how he gets into the family then, I understand now. HD: Yes, that was Cesar's father. AH: What's that? LD and HD: Marcelino was Cesar's father. AH: Oh, was Cesar's father.
16 HD: Yes. LD: Aurora and Marcelino were Cesar's mother and father. AH: Yes, all right. Now, you say you went straight from the farms to Tampa then? LD: Straight to Tampa from the farms and Havana. Say goodbye to my parents AH: Okay, I just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything we missed in between. Had you been to the Columbia before? LD: Yes I had met the Columbia b ecause I came as a tourist with my father, for whatever relation I don't remember exactly why, and I toured the Columbia for the first time and at that time the Columbia Restaurant, Cesar had (inaudible) anothe r restaurant at Orlando airport, the local air port. Busy work, you know Cesar took me there and I worked with Cesar. Wherever Cesar went, I was there. AH: Now, so you came basically as a tourist the first time? LD: That's the truth, just to look at Tampa and St. Pete. AH: How old were you then? LD: I would say twenty. AH: Okay, you were about twenty. And when you saw the restaurant for the first time obviously you had heard about it before LD: (inaudible) AH: And you were impressed? LD: The waiters were the best in the world. Everybody looked like a million dollars. AH: Okay. And so you started, when you came over well, firstly of all, were you impressed that the process had been so fast since you wrote that letter? LD: No, you know I knew he would be that way. I knew that Cesar was not a [slacker] he would get into things and get them done. AH: All right so, when does Helen come into the picture? LD: When I was at the Columbia Restaurant as a busboy and I was chasing after every girl in Tampa, and my cousin AH: Well, I hear you're a handsome devil bu t I heard that Cesar was a little
17 [HD laughing] AH: jealous almost, right? LD: No, I dare say that that's not the case; if there was a jealous it would have to be on my part. Cesar was the king of, the king, there was no competition. But I was like ever ybody at twenty, you know, charming and trying to do my best with the ladies, and I love ladies in Tampa. I thought they were the most beautiful girls, period. AH: Even better than in Cuba then? LD: Oh, [yes], they were more they were rounded, much nicer t han the ones (inaudible) in Cuba. AH: They were more voluptuous? LD: Voluptuous is the word. In Cuba, everybody had to struggle, you know, you don't put on extra pounds if you don't have extra food. In Tampa, it wasn't that way everyone was, everybody was beautiful. So, I came to Tampa and I got the feeling the family assigned me to a girl that was, a very serious family, which I am not at freedom to discuss them. And I was assigned to eventually marry her, because I was (inaudible) the money. And I though t she was the ugliest thing that (AH laughing) I thought, "T his is not the thing for me. And I was respectful and ever ything, and I asked her to (inaudible) but that was not to the purpose (inaudible) that was like [marry a person for money and a good job no love]. AH: Yes, yes. But you had followed your heart LD: Right. Well, no the [union] with her. At that time, there was the draft in America. AH: Yes. LD: Grimaldi the president of the, Columbia Bank was the draft board, the chief of the draft. So, o ne day Cesar comes to me very contrite, and tells me, Luisito, I got bad news. HD: What? LD: (inaudible) And told me the bad news. I got a letter, a letter from the President of the United States. And I said Letter from the President of the United Sta tes! And he says, "Yes, you have been called by the draft board. You know, for (inaudible). And at that time, Korea was over. I happened to go to the draft board to tell them that I didn't speak the language and that what did they call me a year after? T hey laughed at me and looked at me and they gave me the tickets to go to Jacksonville and I was only three or four months at the Columbia. So, I went to Jacksonville and I took a physical which all of the people had. The history of my wife and I the fiftie th wedding anniversary we talked
18 clearly about that. So, anyway, I went to this particular Jacksonville and they told me, "A 1, you are perfect, everything's perfect with you." So, when I get back to Tampa they gave me a second ticket to go to Fort Jackso n South Carolina to start training So, I left the Columbia for three years. Cesar was growing immense you know, the restaurant was starting to be progressing, and that was the beginning of the Siboney [dining room]. In my absence, Cesar with the pause it gave him, they created the Siboney, and the first time a restaurant in Tampa have a nightly daily show. And when I came from the Army three years after, I married without telling anybody, my wife. When I met her, I met her at my first pass and I knew that I would probably marry this woman. She was so superior to everything I ever met. AH: Okay, where was this? LD: In Germany. AH: Oh, it was in Germany. LD: In Germany. AH: Okay, so you met she LD: I went through basic training like everybody else. Some p eople were assigned to Korea, some people were assigned to France, or India and I was sent to Europe for my years for deployment to Germany. It was a wonderful thing. The greatest thing that ever happened to me. (AH laughing) So, met my wife in traveling t hrough AH: So, she is German? HD: Yes. LD: Pure German. AH: Okay, I just want to get that clear, because I don't know all the history. So tell the story then. LD: Well, I get a pass and I was going to the woods of Bavaria, and I saw her in a group with he r family. And I (inaudible) I have never been really shy of women, you know. And I went up to her and I invited her very respectfully to join me in going to (inaudible) to the Capitol Theatre. HD: To the movie. AH: Okay, to the movie. And your family was there at this time, right? HD: No, no.
19 AH: Oh, they weren't? LD: Cousins. Cousins. AH: Oh, cousins, okay you were with young people. LD: That's right. I met her and we met (inaudible), I still remember exactly the place we were. I know the place very well I have been spending the years going back to the same place. We spent one night together, and after three years in Germany I married her. AH: Okay, you married her in Germany? HD: Yes. LD: In Germany. AH: Okay. LD: On the twentieth of September, the Ar my took me out of Germany on the twenty third. So, it was like a one day honeymoon, you know. AH: Oh, no. (HD laughing) LD: But I knew it would be okay. I was very optimistic about everything. AH: It is kind of romantic that way too. So, you knew they were taking you out of Germany? LD: Well, it would be coming in a short time. I had to write to my family in Cuba to send me the papers and she had to do the papers. The army tried to avoid [us from getting] married (inaudible). AH: Oh they don't want you marr ying. LD: No because I had a family that would swear she wasn't eighteen when I met her AH: Okay. HD: Nineteen. You robbed the cradle. AH: And how old were you? LD I was twenty at that time I was twenty five. Twenty four, twenty four.
20 AH: That's not too m uch a difference. LD: So, obviously we got married and I never told anybody. So, when I came from Germany to Tampa, it was like the banana republic. Oh, my family and everything. Cesar welcomed me the lost brother that come to home and he prepared a party for me at the Columbia Restaurant never to be forgotten. And he had this girl that had been assigned to me sitting next to me. AH: Oh, no. And you were already married at this [time]? LD: I was already married. HD: They didn't ask him. AH: Oh, so nobody asked you, they just sent this girl down to you. And you didn't have Helen with you then, obviously not. LD and HD: No. No, no. HD: I came four, five months later. LD: On the fourth of February, 1957. AH: He remembers? LD: I remember those dates very easi ly. So, anyway to make a long story short, I was at the banquet and the mother this is a prime family in Tampa, one of the most outstanding families in Tampa, and I got my drink and sat there for half an hour. (speaks in a high pitched girl voice) And I h ave the girl over here and the mother over here. AH: Oh, no. LD: The party is going fantastic and nobody is asking me anything, everybody is drinking to us and Tampa and all that. And the mother of the daughter very politely, in extremely incredible class asks me, says, Luis, I see that you have a ring on your hand. Have you married? I said, "Y es, ma'am I have. She says "D oes anybody know anything?" I said, "N o, no, no one asked me anything and I wasn't going to She says, "L et that be your secret and my secret. And we continued the dinner. And this lady stays on my mind always. The lady is numero uno. AH: Yes, that is very classy. I mean if she didn't break up the party or anything. LD: No, no. AH: She should have been angry, right?
21 LD: No, I don't think she was [about] preparation. It was like, let these guys get to know each other. AH: Yes. (AH and LD talking at once) LD: It was done like a Latin family do a lot things, you know. They do it softly. AH: They just happened to seat you next to each o ther, that's all. LD: And she was tremendous lady never to be forgotten. AH: Okay, I just wanted to ask, had you met this woman that they wanted you to marry before? Or this is the first time? LD: No, I seen her around. AH: Okay, but at this point, what I want to know is before you left for Germany, did they already have her picked for you? LD: Cesar had already thought about it. AH: Okay, but it wasn't like you were told about it yet. LD: No, no, no. AH: So this was all new. LD: Cesar was building my case you know. (AH laughing) LD: Like everything like Cesar did. AH: So, no wonder that he was all happy to see you all dressed up like gangbusters. HD: (inaudible) stage for Cesar. AH: All right, that's a great story. HD: And then tell him what was the endin g, about after the party. LD: Oh, when Cesar learned that I was married. AH: Yes.
22 LD: You talking about me, I was nothing. You are nothing you are like (inaudible) family, you mean nothing. AH: Oh, no. LD: He in a loving way. It was love, it was never hat e. AH: Yes, yes. LD: You, you could be on top of the world. You belong in the third class. You are going to be a busboy and a waiter for the rest of your life. Which it didn't phase me because I knew I was going to do well somehow. AH: Well, it is much be tter to have the wife that you want, than having to go fool around like a lot of people did. LD: It is true, it's true. I must admit that that was the case. (AH laughing) LD: You know, I respect Cesar because he wanted me to do well. AH: Yes, he wanted you to do well in life. LD: And then I went to work at the Columbia Restaurant, and I say, "H e didn't want me to (inaudible) waiter any more ." So, he was very, the man with great idea, he got a Royal Palm Bakery where he make the most magnificent pastries and breads and everything and I was there like directing things. AH: This was called the Royal Palm Bakery? LD: Royal Palm Bakery. AH: Now, what this was open, this was run by the Columbia? LD: Owned by the Columbia Restaurant. AH: Okay. LD: He brought over pastry chefs from Cuba. It was the best pastry that Tampa has ever seen. I remember the name Joaquin Noda. AH: Joaquin, say the name over? LD: Joaquin Noda.
23 AH: Noah? LD: Noda, N O D A. AH: Noda, okay. HD: Noda. LD: He was the perfect baker, and the othe r was Luis Bilatarzana That man was a master. And those people were making pastry for the Columbia and Cuban crackers and bread and magnificent stuff. And Cesar was creating the corner where today they got the cigar shop and there was the Royal Palm Baker y. AH: Okay. All right, so was where the souvenir shop is today? LD: Correct. No, the Royal Palm Bakery AH: Okay. LD: the shop HD: He has a bakery there a shop. A bakery shop. AH: Okay. HD: Where they sold the pastry and the bakery where they made the b read and all, was down where the cigar shop LD: Norman Coffee HD: Norman Coffee is in there. AH: Okay, the Coffee Mill. HD: Right. LD: The Coffee Mill. AH: Yes, okay. HD: That's where the Royal Palm Bakery was right there. AH: Okay, I see. And did they s ell retail out of that store, or it was just for the Columbia? LD: No, no, no it was retail. Very, very, very wonderful idea that one of Cesar's.
24 AH: Yes. Well, Casimiro Jr., he had a Columbia Bakery but this was different? HD: Casimiro. AH: Yes, the secon d Casimiro, you know the one who LD: He had a coffee shop. AH: Okay, he had a coffee shop but he did have a bakery. LD: And across from the shop his brother's. AH: Okay, but he didn't have a bakery. LD: No, no bakery. AH: Okay, this was new. And this was Cesar's idea then? LD: The bakery was Cesar's idea. AH: Okay. LD: I'm telling you it was the best bakery Tampa has ever seen. There hasn't been anything close to that. Le cheap, le cheap, le cheap. The quality profits we made in there were astonishing. A H: Wish we still had it. HD: Oh, believe me. AH: Oh, it was that good? HD: And the Germans [do] well. (HD laughing) AH: Well, as a German you know good pastries too. HD: Well, yes, but that was different from the German pastries. AH: Okay, I see. Okay. Now she says, Luis's time at the Columbia, honestly how did Casimiro treat you? LD: With a great deal of respect and reverence. Casimiro was the most incredible male, he was a true justice individual, you know? If you did wrong you will know that you did wr ong. He would jump all over you, but he was also a man with a great deal of
25 compassion. I remember, just to mention an idea, one time I love sweets; I don't get tired even if I tried to. You can (inaudible) you can try to but I always [has] same weight. An d I get develop an ability to eat the flans without touching it you know. The got a small flan that they call a lunch flan, custard. AH: Okay. LD: And I would put one in my mouth and throw back (inaudible) and keep on going (AH laughing) LD: I was a good worker but I had to stop for flan at least two or three times a day. And Casimiro saw me one time doing that, and it was forbidden for the employees to eat custard. AH: Oh, I see. LD: So, I apologize when I saw Casimiro in front of me His face, majestic presence. I say, "I apologize. I'm sorry; from the bottom of my heart I won't do it any more." And I really mean it that I won't do it anymore and Casimiro says, "N o, no, no, I want you to do it again. It's going to cost my job I don't want to do it. I tell you to do it! I want to see how you do that." I took one flan (inaudible) press it on top, plop. He say, "Coo." He kept on walking never [saw] anything like it. This guy is fast. (laughing) AH: Oh, because he was amazed at how fast you did it. LD: At how fast I did it, you know. AH: And, what was the secret? Did you loosen it at all from the tin? LD: That was (inaudible) to the mold. You have to put your fingers to lower the custard down. To separate the mold because and it becomes very loose and I did it in such a move. I did it in one shot. AH: One motion, yes. LD: And Casimiro (inaudible) coo. AH: So, it is almost like he was proud of you almost. LD: Well AH: Well, not proud but you know, impressed. He was impressed. (AH and LD talking at once)
26 LD: He was proud of this feat. He didn't say anything about it, I don't want you to He didn't say anything, he just keep on walking. But out of respect for him I never done it again. AH: Okay, so it was understood after that, no more. LD: Casimiro Herna ndes. He was a tremendous man. AH: Yes, I really wish I could have met him. Tape 1, Side A ends, Side B begins AH: How did Casimiro treat Cesar from what you saw? LD: He was always amused by Cesar. Cesar was a guy that you had to judge him twice a week bec ause he was always a different man. Casimiro was amused because he was a bread and butter man, a real working man, and Cesar was a fancy guy, you know, always flying. He always had a cloud under his feet. I finded he was amused by how in the devil did this guy have my hard working daughter? But Cesar was a charmer. They keep a relationship that is like a it got a lot of respect you know, that relationship is known to respect. Cesar was working now with Casimiro but kept a distance, so that Casimiro really n ever passed (inaudible) judgment on Cesar. A dreamer and a doer. AH: Yes, okay. So, it seemed like at first when he first met him he was, I don't know, he wasn't too impressed but over time it seems like he was more you get a grudging respect for Cesar, i t seems. LD: I finded that, everybody did. AH: Everybody (AH laughing) LD: The first impression that Cesar gave to everybody was a (inaudible).You know a guy that has so many ideas that we were in a time of bread and butter. It was sorry, sorry, timing a nd Cesar had an idea that were ten years ahead of his time. It was hard to comprehend Cesar, but he was a guy that he got a dream and he would have to touch this corner, and this corner, and this corner. He didn't mind touching the corners that would help him to get to the dream. And that was Cesar. Casimiro was a solid man. He got that sense, he got it done. (inaudible) for him but he was solid. Wonderful, wonderful individual. AH: It would be hard to find two so different people, you know? LD: It really was . [Portion of interview omitted at the request of LD and HD]
27 HD: Adela was an awesome woman. AH: Okay, let's talk about this. We've talked about Cesar a lot; let's talk a little bit about Adela. Why don't you as a woman when you first met Adela wh at did you think? I mean just your first impression. LD: Talk to (inaudible) HD: Well, Adela AH: Do you mind sitting here? I just want to make sure we can hear you okay. HD: I didn't speak very well English, so we didn't have that much communication with each other. AH: Okay. HD: We seen (inaudible) sometimes we go to their house when they have a party we're invited to and everything but no too often. Maybe his birthday, her birthday, her mother's birthday. That's when we get together or something, but th e only thing I remember she was very nice and very good to us because we didn't own a car or anything so we were allowed to use her car. I don't remember at present what type of car she had at the time and we were allowed on Sunday to use her car when he w as off to take a small ride around Tampa and see Tampa and everything else. But as the years go by, what ever it was I didn't belong to any of the clubs or anything with Adela, and she was very much involved in Tampa and certain clubs. I don't know the clu bs or anything, but it had to do with women and whatever. AH: Okay. HD: She was very well liked by everybody. Everybody I talked to and everybody that I know who was associated with her. They all very much LD: A woman of her time. HD: A woman of her time LD: I was very busy when my wife came over to America. AH: Okay. LD: I was very busy with Cesar (inaudible) HD: I think it was at mother's birthday or something. AH: That's a great picture.
28 HD: Yes. AH: So, this is the first visit? HD: Into their house, into the official residence of their house. LD: You must remember that this only has pertained to us but this is only for conversation purpose. Cesar remained very angry at my wife for the fact that she took me away. AH: I was about to ask about that, I m ean he's got his arm around you here but he's still kind of LD: When my wife would come to visit me at the Columbia, very, very, lean times. She had to walk all over Ybor City carrying my children in her stomach because the second was coming pretty soon. AH: Okay. LD: When she came to visit me Cesar was always in love with children, loved children to death. He look at my children and they were always in German clothes. Neat. She is the neatest person. The children always smell like a flower, and Cesar woul d carry them and say, "Y ou know what your wife keeps these children impeccable ." No loose, no loose, how do you call it HD: Diapers. LD: Diapers. They were tight like a pants, you know. And they look [well] dressed in German clothes with the regular shoe s. That's when my wife got into the good side of Cesar says, "T his is a great woman ." That is a slowly, you know, (inaudible) AH: It just took a little time. HD: Yes. AH: Okay. LD: It took a while, it took a while. She is German, she can take it. HD: I can take it. I also can dish it out. (HD laughing) But yes it took a long time. But he realized, then after his parents came and everything, and then he realized I took care of his parents when he was working and everything else. So, I don't know, I did no t only have my children, I also have his parents to take care of on top of my children. So, I run two households and everything else. So, I guess he realized that. He told me then just before died, he told me, he says that
29 LD: You been a great wife [in ba ckground]. HD: I was a great woman and a great wife to Luis and a good mother to my children That was actually the last conversation Cesar and I had. I think that is maybe four months before he died. AH: And how did that make you feel when he said that? HD: It made me feel good. I thought to myself, well, it really took him so many years to realize that I didn't take him away from anything that he didn't wanted. AH: Yes. HD: You know. That's what my husband wanted. He didn't want what Cesar wanted for hi m. My husband wanted what he wanted. So, it worked out fine. AH: Well, it sounded like he recognized it long before he admitted it HD: Yes. AH: to you, but he did finally say it. Okay, now the trips to Cuba. I don't know if this is a different question o r if this had to do with Rosita or not. But the trips to Cuba, she asks. LD: Well, the trips to Cuba that is an adventure in itself. That's Cesar. But in my case I went to Cuba when Fidel took over. I took my wife, and my wife was the first person that tol d me, Luis I don't want to hurt y our feelings but this guy is a C ommunist HD: That was in 1958. LD: No, fifty nine . Wait, excuse me, it was 1960. HD: The last time. LD: Castro was already in power when we went to the stadium in Havana. HD: That was the last time. LD: That's when you told me. I was there. I promise you I was there. (LD laughing) AH: Havana Stadium, you watched him speak? HD: We were in the stadium. AH: Okay, so you mean the famous one where the dove landed on his shoulder.
30 LD: Th at's exactly correct. HD: That's right. AH: That's the one? LD: I was there. HD: I was there. AH: So, did you get the feeling you were witnessing history, I mean HD: Yes, the end of democracy. (HD and LD talking at once) HD: The officials (inaudible) they were all on top. They were all around us and behind us LD: You know the stadium seat about twenty thousand people. HD: Everybody was standing. LD: It was very close to my house and my brother invited us. He said, "Y ou need to come ." My brother was a comm ander in the Red Army with Fidel Castro. I kept looking at the stadium, and I saw at the top of the stadium in the last seating like every ten feet there was a guy standing. And there wasn't any sitting available. They were all over the stadium. I didn't p ay attention. I says, "W ell this is protection if Fidel is going to be here, protesters are going to be here. So, I'm listening to this speech and he's taking the electric [companies] telephone, the electrical telephone, he's taking everything away from A merica. I thought this is getting to be a little bit radical and I'm getting to be a bit nervous about this. [It is] war with America. And my wife told me, Luis, I hate to tell you this. I hate to tell you but this guy is a C ommunist. HD: Okay, but I re alized when we left the stadium we drove down through Havana and everything else, and here you seen all those trucks with caskets on top of it. And I told Luis, I said, "M y god what is going on here a funeral or something happen here? And then you see th e electric company, the telephone company. All the caskets have the name of the American companies. They going to pack up the trucks like, "Y ou are dead, you are gone, you know. AH: Yes. HD: And even we went into the capital.
31 LD: We went to eat coffee sho p; we went to a coffee shop loaded with people. I had a flan and something else but I was hanging out. I was leaving the stadium, and I realized this crowd is becoming anti American. And I was, I need to let go of my feelings, you know, this is wrong, you know. So, I remember that day. Some guys were applauding that we're going to get the Americans. They realize that she was an American (my wife). You could see their conversation was geared to her. They say, "W e're going to get the Americans (inaudible) Gua ntanamo. The American base it's always been there. We're going to start kicking the ass of the We're going to get the Americans out of Cmanera. We're going to take over the American base for Cuba. And I got in my last words. I said, "Okay, I 'll tell y ou guys Americans are praying tha t you guys choose to go against Cmanera, Guantanamo, because they are going to sta rt kick the asses of all of you They are going to kick the Cubans and all of you guys." And the police came to me, very serious policemen, a traffic policeman says, "O ye, come over here. Took my wife and me, we paid for the bill and said, "G et out of here or else you are going to be taken. The police saved my ass. AH: Yes, and they were shooting people. LD: They were not shooting, putting y ou in jail. AH: Well, they wouldn't have shot you. It was more Cubans that were in the way. LD: That were in involved in the past. I left and then we have problems leaving Havana. AH: Oh, no. LD: Because I have a lot of friends in Cuba. I remember when my time come to leave Cuba and went onto a ferry by the name of City of Havana' and my car that I brought from Tampa, a 1956 Plymouth. So, when I brought my car around to give the keys to them. No, I keep the keys. On the ferry and I went to the second floo r with all the Cubans that were leaving Cuba. Everybody was very quiet you couldn't hear a fly, the nearest person. And I'm sitting there with my two children and my wife minding my business in a little corner, and I hear my name on the HD: Loud speaker. LD: loud speaker, Mr. Diaz, Luis Diaz ", in Spanish "S tep up to the officer. We need to talk to you. I said, "W hat the hell is this? And I didn't want to go. I refused to. I didn't want no problems. We already going to leave Cuba, and I didn't want to h ear no more of that. So, when I hear that, I (inaudible). No I am going to show that I am sleeping in one of the many cushions that they have in there. And I see two guys, two big boys, Cuban boys with military boots coming toward me, Seor, over here. [LD said] "Okay, w hat can I do for you? [They say] "You have to come with us ." I said, I can not come with you, I got my children over here, my wife and I don't want to go anywhere. They said "Y ou [are] going to come with us. Now."
32 HD: (inaudible) LD : We're going to take care of it." So, I said, "She also had to come, and our children." I remember a stair that take you to the ferry. So, we are all with the passengers, and everybody is quiet. Hundreds and hundreds of Cubans that are leaving Cuba forev er. Everybody quiet. They look at me like, "W hat a stupid guy. So, they took me down the steps HD: The stairway. LD: stairway going down. I came down and they took my wife and my children by one side HD: With militia women. LD: with militia ladies in uniform, you know in Fidel uniform, the two guys took me to a commander and I remember that the she went through her things. They shake the diapers of the children and everything. So, I go to this guy, big guy like you. He's in a desk in the port writing d own; I can only see the end of his cap, military cap and the insignia of commander. I think, "O h shit, what the hell, I really fuck up ." So, I'm really I'm sorry for the bad word. AH: Oh, no it's all right. LD: I'm wondering what is going to happen. The gu y look at me and after he dropped the paper, look at me, he has this face of surprise, [he said] "Colorado?" My nickname in Cuba was Colorado. Red face. HD: Red face. LD: He say, "Colorado! What are you doing here? I say, I don't know, man, these guys t old me to come over here. [He stand up] and start hugging me. We were neighbors. I was living in sixty eight and he was living in seventy [next to each other]. AH: Oh, wow. LD: His name is Rogelio. So, anyway to make a long story short he say, "Talk to t he general. This guy was a revolutionary when you were in diapers. He's been fighting Batista from the very beginning. So, what are you doing? Get out of here. Go about your business." We went out together. And here is my wife mad at the militia ladies get ting very angry at her, you know. AH: What the ladies were getting very angry at you? HD: I was insulted!
33 LD: She was angry at them. HD: You know how it is; they go through my pants front, back. I mean it was a little bit too much for me, okay. My children had to take the diaper off. They check my lipstick case; they check everything, I mean. LD: So, we met together. AH: So, what were they looking for? LD: I get the feeling there was contraband and money. HD: Whatever. AH: Yes, they're just harassing. LD: S erious harassment. So, we went [out] to get on the gangplank [that] takes you to the boat. Now there is a thousand Cubans all very quiet looking at what is happening downstairs. (AH laughing) LD: And here comes this commander with this arm around me and He len discussing, we walking toward the ship and he embraced me very proficient, "Como esta tu mama? How is your mother?" And how is this, and asking me things that only a brother can ask from you. So, we said goodbye and I go to the boat and everybody goe s [away from us]. HD: Like we had the plague. (laughing) AH: Oh, they stay away from you. (laughing) HD: Yes, everybody. LD: No one talked to me. HD: Yes, like we had the plague. LD: After three days, in Tampa, I got the FBI coming to my gate, my door. AH : Oh, no, the FBI now. (LD and HD agreeing) LD: The FBI came to my house (inaudible) home. Very polite. Very classic. They asked me a lot of questions. They asked me to come to the office for an interrogatory thing. But
34 they knew that I was clear, you know I explained to them the facts, and that was it. I left Cuba never to come back. AH: Wow, what a story. Okay, now, but your neighbor he was pro Castro obviously? LD: He was a commander with my brother in the Fidel Castro Army. AH: Okay. LD: They're both [dead]. AH: But since he knew you, I mean, you mention that he tried to kind of correct you, did he say that Castro was okay, o r did he just forget the LD: No, we not talk about that. AH: Okay, he just forgot the whole thing. LD: I was his brother, I wa s his brother. AH: Yes. LD: He protect me because he knew that I fought against Batista. So, he was very clear to the fact that I had to be pro Castro if I am in Cuba. So, he was assuming that I was in favor of Castro. The incident that took place in the little coffee shop they were not aware of that. AH: Okay, so you being called at the ferry had nothing to do with that. LD: From the fact that I was in Cuba. People didn't go to Cuba. People live here. So, I go to Cuba with my automobile and you know lea ders of the Castro army some of them were killed in a few days after we came back. It was a situation where they felt like I had something in mind. AH: Yes, yes, okay. LD: My hope was for her to learn to cook Spanish food. HD: Matter of fact, matter of fact he send me, I think, two weeks before he came or something like this. He sent me on a plane to Cuba with my children, and then he came with the ferry with the car. Then we came back to Florida after two weeks. AH: And part of the objective was that yo u wanted her to learn to cook Spanish? LD and HD: Spanish from the Cubans.
35 LD: Which she became proficient, totally fantastic. AH: Okay, so who did you learn from there? HD: My in laws, his mother and father, my sister in law, my brother in law. AH: I see HD: And then, of course, I made friends with the neighbors from them. LD: And then Adela. HD: And the Adela came but LD: The chef of the Columbia. She learn the Spanish cooking better than half the Spanish people in Tampa. HD: Yes, my first recipes I go t from Sarapico. I got them, then I lent them out and I never got them back and AH: Oh, you lent them to someone and you never got them back? HD: Yes. AH: Oh, no. HD: After fifty years I do pretty well (laughing). AH: Yes, okay. All right, so, the objecti ve of the trip was fulfilled anyway? HD: Yes. AH: Well, that was a great story and so Cesar had his own adventures in Cuba, too? LD: No, in Cuba, he was under control. In Cuba, that woman didn't allow him half an inch. AH: Oh, okay, I see. LD: He was unde r the tutelage of that woman. HD: Before he married Adela. LD: He can have a lot of dreams HD: That was before he married Adela.
36 AH: Oh. HD: She's the one, the first wife (Fantasia). AH: Yes, okay. LD: Very strong lady. AH: So, okay, we talked about how you came to Florida. Now, when you first came she asks, "H ow did the family treat you? She says, I know bad. LD: Me? AH: Yes. LD: No, I sense that it was a little like, "W hat an idiot ." You know, just like his father, my father was the (inaudible) of the family, and also the one that went against the grain, you know. He took the workers' side you know, like working class. (inaudible) About the working class he loved. You know, my father was a working man. AH: Yes. LD: And he really loved to provide for the workers. He doesn't want anyone to be spoiled. And if you know the Spanish language or someone that you know is very good. My father wrote a poem that I keep always in my house. That is perfection. Nobody can explain the course of the working man a nd the working woman like my father did on that. He called it "The Los Pesares de un Rebelde." AH: Okay. LD: It is something I am so proud of that. It's a three page poem in Spanish, that traces the history of the working class from the beginning, and why don't they do something revolutionary. AH: Yes. LD: That was my father. AH: Okay. Obviously, how do you think your father? Did he live to see the rise of Castro? LD: He did and he was very happy. AH: He was happy.
37 LD: Very happy and then in 1972, he had to come over. He was a deject man. He was like broken, like broken by the problems created by the revolutions of Cuba. AH: Okay. So he was disillusioned then. LD: Oh yes, extremely disillusioned. AH: Okay. LD: He came and he was a broken hearted man. HD: Nineteen sixty two he came. LD: Sixty two , that's right. AH: Oh, so that didn't take HD: He was seventy two years old when he came. LD: (inaudible) HD: (inaudible) AH: Okay, so it didn't take very long, really. LD: No, Castro he in one year, destr oyed Cuba. The man is not a dreamer. The man is the biggest, the biggest enemy of Cuba. AH: Yes, well he was worse then Batista in many ways, because he completely changed the society. LD: He's the biggest hypocrite and I knew he was. I mean, the fact of the matter, this is another story. But he and I used to belong to the same political party in Cuba. AH: Okay. LD: There was a party by the name of Partido Ortodoxo. AH: Okay. LD: That means it was dignity, it was money. That was the party we used to belon g. You try to follow the dreams of my father. AH: Okay. LD: I was no following with Fidel. I was following the signs of that party.
38 AH: Yes. LD: but eventually the party lost a leader, and pretty soon Fidel Castro get the revolution and all of that and ev erything dissolved. Cuba was a very spectacular country with very intelligent people, you know. We were not accustomed to our dollar, our peso was worth more than the dollar. AH: Yes LD: It was a $1.02, a $1.03. We got solid economics. We had very clever p eople, very well thinking people that are all down in Miami trying to keep the country together. Batista come over and destroyed probably the most magnificent nation in all North America with great heritage. AH: Yes. That's too bad. Let me see here, okay, it says that Marcelino and Aurora worked nice. LD: Marcelino and Aurora probably have their own reason which I don't know then. But I never care very much for Marcelino, because he was an arrogant Spaniard. AH: Okay. LD: Aurora, no. Aurora was the (inaud ible) of the control of Marcelino. Aurora was probably more and more kinder. I never went after anybody to tell I never bend for anybody. AH: Yes. LD: And the fact that I didn't bend to the wishes of the family kind of created an antagonizing factor. AH: Okay. LD: I never was a favorite of any. AH: Okay, and she wanted to know how you guys met but we got that part of the story. That was good. Okay. How you spent your time before and after leaving the Columbia? LD: I left the Columbia in 1966. AH: Okay. LD: And I was so sure that I would do well. I never had any doubts in my mind. No controversy or anything. My wife was very happy when I came home at night and we had a drink and told her the fact that I left the Columbia.
39 AH: Now, what were you doing at the Columbia at that time? LD: I was already managing. AH: You were managing. LD: Right. I was AH: Manager of what? LD: I was actually manager of the Columbia Restaurant: doing buying, and attending to customers, and I was in tuxedo. Very elegant place. HD : They put him in charge of everything else. AH: So you worked very hard. LD: I think so, that I did. AH: So you had lots to do. LD: Day and night. But Cesar was the reason for me to leave the Columbia. AH: Okay. LD: I remember the night that I left the C olumbia like as if it was tonight. I was giving instructions to the waiters to bring the chairs on top of the table. That means the end of the evening and told them that if anybody comes I have plenty of tables over here. But Cesar listened to the conversa tion that I was giving permission to the waiters to close the different dining rooms ahead of the Columbia: the Don Quixote, the Patio AH: Yes, so you were just closing a couple of the rooms and you were keeping others open. Okay. LD: And Cesar rebelled a gainst that, [he said] "Y ou are acting like you were the owner of the restaurant. You're not the owner of the restaurant. And you're not going to tell anybody bah, bah, bah, bah." And he, he dis authorize my orders. Well, I told the waiter, "L eave everythi ng the wa y I tell you to ." He was very angry because I wasn't paying attention to him, because he was a customer at that time. He was having a very good night AH: Yes. LD: with Adela and friends. So I took offense in the fact that he broke my orders. AH: So he just overheard as he was eating dinner, as he was there as a customer.
40 LD: He was very close to the gate, and he listened to me giving orders to the waiters to go home. AH: So, it wasn't as if you were giving orders while he was standing there worki ng too? LD: No, no, no, no, no. No he was as a customer. He was a customer of the dining room. AH: I can see why that would why that would make you angry too. LD: Well, obviously enough anger to, not to be angry, be red in my color and everything. Cold ang er which is the worst anger. AH: Yes. LD: And I listened to him dis authorizing my orders, you know. I try to do the best for the Columbia, and I realized that he was wrong. I said, "T omorrow he is going to realize that he is wrong. But I'm going to leave ; this is a great excuse for me to find a different horizon. AH: Yes. HD: He also told a friend of ours, the waiters and everything, that it was disrespectful for him to do it in front of the other waiters. LD: Yes, the other waiters were enjoying the con versation, you know. AH: Okay, so what was disrespectful for him to disagree with Cesar? HD: No, that Cesar scold him, reprimanded him in front of the employees of the restaurant, the waiters and everything. He's not the owner [Luis]. He has no right to d o so. AH: Okay. HD: So LD: It was a conversation in the heat of the moment. He didn't mean that. AH: Yes. LD: But I knew that night that that was a great excuse for me to fly away. AH: Okay. LD: So, I look at Cesar. I say, Cesar, I never pull my tie awa y from any restaurant. I always felt like it 'til the end of the evening and then tomorrow I will tell you if I want to
41 leave. But you don't leave me any resources. You closed my gate. So, I am leaving this place. AH: You said it that night? LD: I said i t very soft to him. AH: Okay. LD: Then when I walked to the door, the old Spaniard guy by the name of Pepin was the old maitre d', one of those AH: Oh, yes, yes. LD: Pepin looked at me and said, "W ait a minute, if you going to leave tonight never to come back, G od bless you. But if you leave and your cousin is going to call you tomorrow and you are going to come back, you take it like a man, you stay here and it is forgotten tomorrow. AH: Yes. LD: I said, "N o Pepin, I'm leaving not to come back." AH: Oka y. LD: So I left and I have a thousand regrets you know, but I knew I will find an opportunity immediately. AH: Okay. LD: That was on a Saturday, and on Monday I had two offers to go to work. The funny thing about it, I am seventy seven years old, and half of the man I used to be. But the fact of the matter is that I've never been one day unemployed in America. I never ever took a penny of unemployment from this government. I always have work. AH: Yes. LD: And I went to work, and I went to work for the wine companies. AH: The wine companies. LD: Tampa Crown. I stayed with Tampa Crown, I did my best because I was very enthusiastic, and I didn't know much about wine, but I learned. AH: Tampa what?
42 LD: Tampa Crown. HD: Crown. AH: Crown, okay. HD: Tampa Crown. AH: Okay. LD: And a gentlemen by the name of Mike Diaz. Also Spaniard. AH: So you learned then. LD: I learned, because anything you do in life you have to learn the process. AH: Yes. LD: And you don't tell anyone you don't know anything about it but you le arn. AH: So did you sell wine, or what? LD: I was representing. It was a time that wine were not that popular in America. AH: Yes. LD: And anybody that knew wines was an expert. So I did my best. I start selling French, Italian wines and different German w ines, et cetera, et cetera, and learning as I went. AH: Okay. LD: And I loved what I was doing. And the salary were very minimal, you know, you make a $125 a week that was (makes a noise). But anyway, that was the way to go places. I don't have a title. I don't have a master degree or anything. I say, I am going to be a working man, let me be a happy working man. AH: Yes. LD: And I went to work at Tampa Crown. Within two years of working for Tampa Crown, a French man that I was selling his product was ver y sympathetic to me. And the French man says, "Y ou know what, would you like to go to work for me? I say, "If the salary's right. He says, "M aybe the salary won't be right but the opportunity will be right. So I went from making $13,000 a year to makin g $9,100 a year. But they gave me an expense account and an automobile which I didn't have (inaudible). AH: Oh, okay. So that makes a big difference.
43 LD: So a very large company. An American company founded in 1794. AH: But was there more opportunity for a dvancement too? LD: You could say that. AH: Okay. Yes. LD: I went to work for them, and it was probably the twenty best years of my life. AH: What company was this? LD: Schieffelin & Co. AH: Schieffelin. LD: Schieffelin & Co. It's founded in 1794. AH: O kay. LD: An American company that specialize in bringing products from Europe before the prohibition. They also own the Almay products. The cosmetic. AH: Okay. LD: Very solid American company that answer to European suppliers. Today the European suppliers are the owners of the company. AH: I see. LD: So, it was a great opportunity. I retired from them with a very lovely pension plan to take care of my wife and me, and I was the happiest, content, but I always remained close to the Columbia. And just to go back to Cesar AH: Yes. LD: the next day he call my house. Spoke to Helen and me, I'm sorry, that was a bad moment that I had. Luisito I wish you the very best of life. I want you to come to work for me. I want you and I to get old together. AH: Yes. L D: That was very gracious. And I choose not to do it. AH: Yes.
44 LD: I said, Listen Cesar I won't have any hurt, hate in my life. I love you to death. You are the one that has brought me to this country. You has given me all kinds of opportunities. So let' s remain friends and we are going to do very well together. AH: Okay. LD: Which we did. In 1990, when I retired from my company, I went to Spain to look for the wines of the Columbia Restaurant. AH: Okay. LD: That's when my relationship with Richard and Casey became very strong. They knew me from the endeavors with the wine because they were grown adult young men. And they appreciate the crazy cousin that was in the wine business. So, I love the kids to death, you know. Casey, I was very close to him bec ause he used to run the restaurant in Sarasota. And I brought countless of thousands of dollars of business to the Columbia, all of the parties, everything from my big company because (inaudible) one million stock. So, it was my way to pay back, you know, some of the wonderful things that happened with the family. But in the in between when I retired from the company Cesar says, I like to have, I'm very particular, I like to have a wine. And the children were very creative. You know Richard and Casey tho ught about we're going to have a wine and we brought the first wine that I brought for the Columbia was a Rioja 1985 reserve. We brought from a city by the name of Logroo in Spain. And everybody was really pleased with the wine, and then Richard became su ch a tremendous guy in wine that my services were no longer needed. AH: Okay. LD: And slowly I could see that I fading, fading away forever. I hate to lose the connection of the Columbia. AH: Yes. LD: So, at that time I told them in a letter which I keep r ecord and (inaudible) to, "E ven if we part from each other that I still have a great deal of affection for the Columbia and for the family, and any time I can be of serve to them feel free to contact me. And they did so. They used me for education purpos e to go to the different operations of the Columbia. So, I keep that operation and it allows me to be useful. AH: So, you go to the different locations and you kind of do wine tastings for the employees? LD: Any problems that they have and conversations, a nd allow the employees to become more knowledgeable to everyone.
45 AH: Yes, because of course like when you first came to the Columbia, the waiters were in a different class back then. I mean they knew about the food and the wine. LD: They knew all the food. AH: Yes. I mean, they were carving the fish and the chicken at the table, and everything. LD: They [were] masters. AH: Yes, so it's not that way anymore but this is one way to make the employees a little more knowledgeable. LD: I go to seminars monthly. I go to all the operations AH: Oh, you still do? LD: Yes, I do it. And I sit down with the guys for an hour, hour and a half, two hours answering all of their questions that they have. AH: Yes. LD: All the serving procedures, what to say, how to answer a bout wines. It allows me to feel useful in my old age. AH: Yes. LD: And allows Columbia to feel happy (inaudible) is an education for the guys, young kids, the workers would never know the wine [if they didn't taste it]. AH: No, they don't know. LD: So, th at's basically, and it's a continuous process, because the waiters are always changing. It's not like in the past, where a waiter would spend a lifetime. AH: No, it's not like that anymore. LD: Every three weeks you got a new personnel in the restaurant. A H: Yes, so that's why you have to keep doing this education then. HD: Exactly. LD: Which I don't mind. Like tomorrow, we're going to St. Augustine and Celebration [Florida]. Celebration and then St. Augustine. Stay in Orlando one night. The dollars and cen ts is minimal. It's just a way to feel useful.
46 AH: Yes. Well, you're still doing what you love. Over the course of learning about wine, you fell in love with that. LD: That's correct. That's a beautiful business. AH: Yes. Okay, and then it's one of the way s the Columbia one of the things that I find, I do lots of research and reading especially about restaurants and food and here in Tampa and Florida. And one thing about the Columbia that I find so amazing is the fact that it can kind of reinvent itself alm ost every generation. LD: Very well said. AH: Yes, it adapts incredibly to the culture as the culture changes in America. I mean when prohibition went into effect, they got out of the saloon business and got into the restaurant business. They merged with L a Fonda. During the Great Depression, even when times were hard, it was all about romantic dining. It was a new kind of, a new thing: dancing and music, and the Don Quixote [dining room]. It was brilliant. LD: It really was. AH: And then even after the war Cesar comes in and starts bringing more entertainment in. So, the wine I think for this generation is one of the biggest imports, because reading about it, if you read the business literature, it's commonly known that the Columbia probably has the best w ine list of Spanish wines in the country. LD: Without a doubt. I know another three or four that can not even touch it. It is by far the finest wine list. I took a copy of the wine list of the Columbia Restaurant to Spain, to the Rioja. I had at lot of fr iends in Spain, and I showed it to the guys and they all come to the room and they say they couldn't believe it. AH: Okay. LD: They were so amazed by the wines of the Columbia Restaurant. Talking about we haven't seen there is no one in Spain that can matc h the criteria of this wine. AH: Wow. LD: That was another one because I wrote the (inaudible),that is the people that control the qualities. Victor Pascual. He told me, "T his is the finest wine list I have ever seen". AH: Wow. LD: So, that's the greatest accolade I ever got [on behalf of the Columbia]. AH: So, that must be a proud moment for you.
47 LD: And you know, surprisingly, you said something very discovering. The one that has brought, and this is a fact, Richard with the help of Casey, those two guys have brought ways of doing things at the Columbia Restaurant that were unknown to all of us, you know. Maybe we don't have those waiters that remember everything, and regardless of the Latin American waiter that come and go, the whole concept of the Colu mbia is something you look upon, the Columbia, we are in the political field very well recognized. In the tourist field very well recognized. AH: Oh, yes. LD: In every endeavor, the Columbia Restaurant is one of a kind. There are no words for it. And I sa w lot of ideas through the years at the Columbia Restaurant. Right now we are at a stage, magnificent. AH: Oh, yes. All right, I want to talk a little more about the Columbia and just get some of your recollections, but I want to rewind just a little bit a nd let's just look at it from a business point of view, like we've been talking. When you first came you were taken to Orlando, and I know there was a restaurant there, and obviously that was short lived. What was the problem in Orlando? I heard it was pol itical, or what? LD: Pilferage. AH: Pilferage. Okay, so LD: Some of the well trusted men that we used to have working for us, that went there, they became partners of the Columbia Restaurant. HD: Cleaning? AH: What's that? HD: They were cleaning. (laughi ng) AH: Cleaning house. So, these are people who were trusted but they couldn't be well supervised. HD: They were not supervised. LD: None of them were supervised. AH: So, they broke that trust. They were LD: They really broke that trust. Casimiro being b iased he was just look upon the numbers of the Columbia Restaurant and say in Spanish, "Cierra, close it!" AH: Close it.
48 LD: And I went there for the closing. AH: Oh. LD: I went in the truck and we load everything that we supposed to load legally, and br ought it to Tampa. AH: Okay. And the people that were involved in that operation were not asked to come back LD: That was the first venture of Cesar in the restaurant business in Tampa. He lacked the wisdom of the control. To him, everybody was wonderful. AH: Yes. LD: And it was not the case. AH: Well, Casimiro had so much experience, and whether it was buying fish or hiring and firing employees, he had a very good eye for this sort of things, right? LD: He sure did. AH: Okay. LD: He was a master. AH: So Cesar this was one of his first, it was kind of a blunder really I mean LD: Mmm. AH: it didn't work out; it was a loss. LD: at that time he was a musician. He didn't know nothing about AH: Oh, no, no, I understand. I'm not judging him, I'm just sayin g this was a misstep. LD: It was a misstep. AH: It was like Casimiro said, "H e's a race horse and you got to rein him in sometimes." You know. He runs away with himself. That's what LD: He sure did. He sure did. AH: Okay, then what are some of the other things that you observed over the years about the business? I mean, what were some of the challenges of running a business like the Columbia in Ybor City?
49 LD: It was unpleasant to have Casimiro always there. When Cesar came up with idea worthwhile, Casim iro would be there to put the brakes on the ideas. AH: Yes. LD: And then I can not say that for Adela, because Adela was babied all along. Adela was the daughter of her father. AH: Yes. LD: Cesar kept on dreaming. I remember when we were in Sarasota, 80 p ercent of the people, 90 percent of the people that hear we're opening in Sarasota, we thought that it was a mistake. AH: Okay. LD: It was a mistake that in twenty years a mistake paid for itself a thousand times. So, we bought a place that wasn't popular and we were losing money. And I was continuously making trips twice every week to Sarasota. AH: Okay. LD: And I couldn't see any future in Sarasota, because I didn't have the vision of Cesar. AH: Yes. LD: You know I keep looking this place is going to it w as nothing. The location Sarasota at the time was nothing. That was in the late sixties [1960s]. AH: Okay. LD: Late fifties [1950s]. I don't remember, the years go by. AH: Sure, sure. LD: Anyway, the fact of the matter was Sarasota, until Casey took over AH: Yes. LD: was a horse gone wild. AH: Okay, by the time Casey took it over, it was doing better? LD: By the time that Casey took it over, the place was starting to behave like a business. AH: Okay.
50 LD: Casey gave that place a tremendous shine. It became a jewel. AH: Okay, it wasn't losing money by the time he took it over, and he brought it to the next level then? LD: It really was the beginning of the situation that we have today, and that was brought by Casey's organization. AH: Yes. LD: On that one C asey was responsible for the great success of the Sarasota place. And that's when I start getting to do business with the Columbia, and it was so fantastic. Sarasota was always a great place. For the last forty years, thirty years, it's been a great place. The first five years in Sarasota AH: It was rough. LD: very rough. AH: And you mentioned that the people that were working down there might not have been the best choice. Do you think? LD: In Sarasota? AH: Yes. Originally, like when it first opened. LD: No, no, no. In Sarasota, we got good people. AH: Okay. LD: The only place that we had bad people was in Orlando Airport. AH: was Orlando. LD: Sarasota we try to do the best we can with the knowledge that they had. AH: Yes. Now, do you remember anything a bout Las Novedades? LD: Yes, I do. AH: Now, just give me a little bit of background there. I know they were partners, the Garcia brothers, were partners back in the twenties [1920s], and the Columbia bought it with Walter, Jim Walter [conglomerate] money. What do you remember about all these things? Because I know the Columbia ran it for a while.
51 LD: Yes, that's correct. Jim Walter and Cesar were similar age bracket. Jim Walter was from the Navy; a man with brilliant ideas. And Cesar felt like he was at th e level of concepts and ideas, you know, with the unique (inaudible). And Jim Walter and Cesar liked each other. He brought business to the Columbia, and Cesar would always put him on the floor, et cetera, et cetera. He would bring his lady friend, et cet era, et cetera. AH: Okay. LD: So, eventually they got into a partnership, with Las Novedades was going down the drain. They got into a partnership to buy Las Novedades. AH: Yes. LD: They bought it. AH: Yes. LD: But it wasn't such a hot idea. Two different companies, and they bled the blood from each other competing. AH: Yes, it was too close. LD: That's where Rosita got into the picture. AH: She got into the picture? LD: Yes, because she was a waitress at Las Noveades. AH: Oh, I see. LD: So, that's how she got into the picture. AH: So, he didn't start seeing her until that time? LD: That's where he met her for the first time. AH: Okay. Was it like in 1970? LD: That's right. That sounds right. Twenty years ago AH: Yes, okay, interesting. All right. Okay, so I think we got that. And then there is the whole Walled City thing that never happened too. LD: The whole what? AH: The Spanish walled city. Do you remember this? He and Jim Walter
52 Tape 1, Side B ends, Tape 2, Side A begins AH: All right, so you didn't know much about that. LD: No, because they were dreamers. They were mostly the same quality individuals, you know? Very nice, good looking both of them. Dreaming, you know. We call it in English, B ullshit." AH: Yes. LD: They were two guys at the center of conversation. AH: Well you had said that, you know, that the bullshit word is good to describe just how they got the bullfighting law passed here in America in Tampa. LD: In Tampa, you could do anything at that time. AH: Yes, even Dick Greco [Tampa mayor ] was impressed back then. LD: Dick Greco use a (inaudible) people. There was a time when Tampa was very political orientated, and if you had friends you find a way to get things done. AH: Yes, I see. LD: Tampa was a unique city. Tampa is only one city I can remember in the state of Florida like it, is Tampa. AH: Yes. There's a different way of doing business here. LD: At that time it was. Today it is a regular city. AH: Yes. It's more like But between the mob and the European population, all the immigran ts everything it really It was almost like Old World style of doing business, right? LD: It was. It really was. I was very impressed. I even became a political animal in Tampa. AH: Oh, really. LD: But the fact of the matter is, I couldn't believe, you know we had a mayor that couldn't speak English properly That was real news you understand. AH: Oh, yes, yes. LD: You know, he spoke the Italian of Ybor City.
53 AH: Yes. LD: A mayor for a major city in America that could not himself speak in public, you know. AH: Well, he'd get his sayings wrong and everything. LD: But he was a number one politician. AH: Oh, well, he was very well respected, I know. LD: He knew how to handle the city of Tampa. AH: Well, it's funny because today we have a president who is bo rn and bred in America, but he can't speak. So, he has no excuse. LD: Well, it's very different. You're right, you're right. (AH laughing) HD: It's perfectly well today though. I have to give him that much credit. AH: Yes. LD: But the fact of the matter is that, I think that, you know the government (inaudible), but we survived. AH: Yes. LD: You know, in the worst circumstances, the Columbia has always found a way to keep on floating. AH: Yes, well, you talk about this whole way of doing business, Lawrenc e, Casimiro's LD: That's before my time. AH: Okay, yes, but it sounds like he was very much part of that LD: In charge of politic. HD: Which one was that? LD: The top. The brother of Casimiro. AH: Yes.
54 LD: Lawrence. HD: Oh, Lawrence. AH: Yes. Yes, he sou nded like very outgoing guy, lots of connections and everything. LD: He was, he was. AH: Okay. LD: In Tampa, you need to have those things to succeed. AH: Yes, well, especially during the war. I know that was before your time too, but, you know, you hear lots of things. They were able to get things at the Columbia that you weren't able to find because LD: You couldn't find anywhere else, the Columbia would have it. AH: Yes. They always had it. I even found an ad in Spanish that said, you know, "T imes are tight due to rationing but we have it all at La Fonda." You know. We have everything you need. LD: Surprisingly, Lawrence and Casimiro which were brothers that owned the Columbia restaurant. Casimiro wasn't that way. Casimiro was a true, a true Lawrence w as political. Casimiro was by the book. AH: Yes. That's why they were such a great team though, right? I mean LD: They really were. They really were. AH: Yes. LD: But from the news of (inaudible) of Lawrence, Casimiro took over and brought a different tim es to the Columbia. A kind that if we don't have it, we don't have it. AH: Yes. Okay. LD: Somehow we found the work together. AH: Yes. So, now you arrived back after your service, and everything when the Siboney [dining room] was being built and everythin g, right? LD: Correct. AH: Okay. So that's kind of taking it to the next level, too, from Cesar's point of view, making it part of the entertainment circuit, right?
55 LD: Yes. AH: Like you said, you have the daily show but you also have the touring acts: the dancers, the singers, and everything else. How did that change the Columbia? I mean LD: Well, you know, Tampa was always a humble city. All the tourists that came in from the Cincinnati Reds, to all of the Yankees, to the Canadians, to everybody, the Col umbia was a nice adventure. It was a little Tropicana that we used to have in Havana was brought up to Tampa. Cesar brought skaters in that room alone, skaters, skating on ice at the Columbia Restaurant. AH: What, they had ice skating at the Columbia? LD: At the Columbia restaurant. HD: I remember that. AH: Where, where what room? LD: In the stage, in the stage. AH: Oh, on the stage. They had ice. LD: They created machines, just like they do for the ice AH: Unbelievable. LD: Skaters at the Columbia. A Span ish dancer of great renown, Greco. Cesar in the world's entertainment, brought people to the Columbia that we can only dream of. AH: So, what was the skating? Were these Olympic skaters, or was it to music? LD: No, it was I only remember a beautiful woman. It was like six women to there. They tried them. They knew they were (inaudible), but they weren't able to keep the show going. AH: Okay. LD: I remember them, because things that a young man remembered. All of them were a bit false You know. AH: Yes. LD: They were well built, you know. AH: Okay.
56 LD: So you can see we go through the room, and we see all the AH: So it was a little racy, too? LD: It was not racy. AH: Well, classy but HD: At that time, it was a little bit more risqu. AH: A little burlesque (LD, HD, and AH all agreeing) HD: A little more risqu. LD: It was the best that ever happened to Tampa. AH: Yes. LD: The Columbia Restaurant was standing room only. HD: How about the actors that all showed up you all met? LD: Come again? HD: The actors. Like AH: Hollywood actors? HD: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Benny LD: All through the years. HD: As long as you were there. LD: The Columbia was able to bring to the operation, you know, shows that AH: Well, yes, and the actors were tourists like anyone else. They wanted to see the best the town had to offer, so they go to the Columbia. LD: The Columbia was the show place of Tampa. I mean everybody. I remember that. You need to do know somebody to get through the gate. The people would spend money to remember, "R emember me next week when I go here."
57 AH: Yes, yes. Now, let's try to put it in its context. At this time, at that time I mean, you know, I've heard lots of people talk about Los Novedades. Undoubtedly, it was one of the best restaurants in town. LD: I t was a formal restaurant with good food. AH: Okay. LD: Serious food. AH: But they didn't have the same kind of entertainment though, did they? LD: Sure, no they don't have it. They don't have the show. The man was very rigid, a Spaniard. The son was magn ificent. The son was a young man by the name of Manny Alvarez ? Manny. Manny AH: Wait, Garcia. LD: Manny Garcia. AH: Yes. LD: He is a brilliant man. AH: Oh, yes. I interviewed him, too. LD: He is a brilliant young man. AH: Oh, yes, he was amazing. You kn ow, besides just the Burger King thing, he got into all these fine dining stuff and he's now doing the commissary. LD: He's absolutely brilliant. AH: Oh, yes. He is top notch. LD: He said the greatest thing that happened to us was with the closing of the N ovedades. HD: That's the son of (inaudible) Garcia, no? AH: Yes. LD: Manny, Manny Garcia. AH: Yes. Garcia the Third.
58 LD: I know of him as well in Orlando, when I was working for my company. He was always so nice to me. He see an old boy from Tampa. AH: O kay. So, did you business with him at all? LD: Lot of business. A lot of business. AH: Okay. I was curious. LD: But I always had great respect for him. His father was another generation. Very cross of everybody. He would make enemy of somebody who would sa y something. His father was an old Spaniard. AH: Yes. LD: With no real sense of fun or anything. AH: Okay. LD: Don't belong to the generation of Cesar. Cesar was a flying AH: So, would you say he kind of belongs to the same generation as Casimiro? LD: Yes that's very much those two guys were very much alike. AH: They were very similar, yes. LD: One was with the Columbia that was flourishing, and the other was with Los Novedades, which was always a quality environment but losing good customers steadily. AH: Yes. LD: To the AH: And of course you know, Ybor City, it was tough business environment, too, over the sixties [1960s], because of Urban Renewal and all this other. LD: Urban Renewal destroyed Ybor City from one corner to the other. AH: Yes. LD: The y divided the whole thing; and all the Italians, Spanish, and Cubans left Ybor City. AH: Yes.
59 LD: I remember. I remember that very well. AH: Okay. So LD: That was the beginning of the end. AH: Yes, so they did a bad job with Urban Renewal. I think there is pretty much a consensus there between the interstate breaking Ybor City up and everything else, right? LD: Truly Urban Renewal was the invention for the blacks. They started moving in from other communities to Tampa but they I say it was the blacks beca use the blacks in Cuba, they were never different. But the blacks that are found in America are less dreamers. They were matter of fact individuals. I can remember the porches, if there is a hole open to the porch, I stay away from the hole. A Spaniard wou ld fix the hole. AH: Yes. LD: A Cuban would fix the hole and probably improve the roof. But the blacks were accommodating to the bad things that were happening to them. They never really overcome. HD: They started neglecting everything. AH: Yes. LD: I saw them neglect the stores in Ybor City that were incredible. They would put a coat of paint in the house. And I would tell that to my friends in the black community, I told everyone, I have countless amount of friends in the black community because of promot ions that I did in the legal business with the blacks, and I always said to them, "W hat you did in Ybor City doesn't have an excuse." AH: Yes. LD: And then there comes the time, intelligent people can remember this, you know, people without education flood ing the place. And you make forty dollars, and you don't have three kids you have only one kid to until you survive. AH: Yes. LD: They all had six. AH: Yes. LD: And that's something they hate to hear, you know, but that's the fact coming from Cuba. In Cub a, I never knew there was a difference between white and black.
60 AH: Sure. And well, everyone, everyone worked hard. LD: They have too. AH: Yes. LD: There wasn't no mercy if you don't do it. But over here they have to take some convincing. That wasn't comi ng from the Latins; I tell you, it came from the Anglo Saxons. That came from the Anglo Saxon community that really carried a HD: Big chip on their shoulder. LD: big chip on their shoulder. This is only in America. I sense that there is something over he re, the first time I saw discrimination. AH: Yes. LD: And it was a regular shock, but it wasn't from the Latin community, neither the Italians, neither the Cubans, neither the Spanish. AH: Yes. LD: But the prevalent (inaudible) in America was always in Am erican (inaudible), no matter where you went. AH: Yes. LD: And I said that the blacks were getting the worst of the and they didn't do anything to prevail, and not even through the upheaval of the situation they did it, but they didn't do 100 percent. It w as like 10 percent carrying the weight of 90 percent. AH: Yes. Now, to clarify that. In Cuba, correct me if I'm wrong, I'm going to make a kind, you know, a hypothesis here. You can punch holes in all of it if it's wrong, but in Cuba, I mean there was some awareness of race and LD: There was. AH: and were, you know, I mean there's not separate cultures, I don't want to say that. It's not like in America where there is a separate culture, but did they tend to coalesce with each other? No, it was just all m ixed up. LD: No, no. That's a very good statement. In Cuba, we live one right next to each other. We can't find the difference. As long as you keep your house, I don't have any quarrel with that. But on Sundays, I saw discrimination all over. Blacks were g oing to dance with the blacks.
61 AH: Yes. LD Mulattos were going to dance with mulattos. A Spaniard will dance with a Spaniard. AH: Yes. LD: And within the Spaniard, four or five different groups Gallegos Asturianos AH: A hierarchy. LD: No, separated. ( LD and AH talking at once) AH: Yes, okay. LD: And the regular Cubans were okay because they can mix in with the regular men in Cuba can mix in any. We can go to the Asturiano, we can go to the Gallegos we can go everywhere, but the races were already divi ded. I remember that when we went to see good dancing we went to Club Cultural De el Cerro. Go to a club of the neighborhood that I was in. The blacks were dressed to kill. I see them with a beautiful handkerchief hanging down; dancing (makes noise like th e beat of music). A guy and wife were together dancing but they don't allow us to go in. AH: Yes. LD: I say, "W hat is the situation? You know. Blacks, this is a club for blacks and we can't go in there. And they can't go to the places that I would go. AH : Sure. LD: So it was a separate discrimination. I think it was the most intelligent socializing that I have ever seen in my life. We can go under the same roof and this I saw a thousand time in the country. It is black and white but there was a low rope i n the room. AH: Okay. LD: This is for white, this is for the black [indicates sides]. Then we exchange drinks over the rope [makes fasting talking noises probably to denote conversation]. The rope was there. Most amusing scene. AH: So, it didn't have the same kind of tension. Here in America, there is a tension there. LD: No, there was no tension. AH: There was a little separation, but there wasn't a tense situation. It was accepted.
62 LD: It was totally acceptable every race. HD: I can tell you, because whe n I went to Cuba and there was the lady, at the corner of us, the corner where you were living was right across, there was a black family in there. I mean the sweetest people I mean you can imagine. And there was no even so in the sixties, 1960 it wasn't a s bad in Tampa as it is today. AH: Oh, really, okay LD: Okay, I'm glad you say that at that time that you remember, Hi, Mrs. Diaz is because there was big pressure and they do that to survive. They were surviving at the time. HD: It was a different time LD: It was a different time. AH: To give you an example of how much it changed. It's impossible, at least for me, it's impossible to imagine the Civil Rights' movement of the 1950s and sixties [1960s]: the organization, the discipline, the idealism of no n violence and all that. It is impossible to imagine that happening today. Because one of the big things that kept the black communities together was the churches, and the churches they don't have the power they used to. The young people don't go. So they don't have a central hub, like in Ybor City it might be the social clubs or something else. It is a very different. HD: I have some black friends and they're very, very nice people and everything, so I respect them. AH: Oh, yes. LD: The problem is that wit hin the black community, there has been a beautiful 20 to 25 percent that choose to improve themselves. HD: Yes. LD: Through education, through college or whatever. And out of that, 25 percent, 20 percent became total citizen you know, he says, "I'm here. I'm going to blend and be the kind of citizen that life has expected of me." AH: Yes. LD: But there is that other 5 percent that became the leaders of the rebels and then the Johns, what is the name of that black man that is in every AH: What? Jesse Jacks on?
63 (LD and HD agree with the answer) LD: Those are who are controlling the ill educated poor, and they have become leaders of the masses. AH: Okay. I see. LD: But that 20 or 25 percent that I talk to you about, they are invisible. They are the ones real proud. Those are the ones who assimilate. They are not white lovers or anything they just but they say, "I don't want to be part of the mediocrity that is created by the rebel whites or the young blacks." AH: Okay. All right, let's go back to the Columbia and kind of rap this up. Okay, so, we talked about the expansion to Sarasota. We talked about the Los Novedades closing which was the Columbia was king in Ybor City after that, right? I mean the only thing left was Spanish Park, and that didn't last. LD: H istory. AH: Okay. So, subsequent expansion: St. Augustine. Now, today. LD: Yes. It seems to me that, okay, this Spanish walled city didn't work. Ybor City and this time of the seventies [1970s], it wasn't right. But, the same, almost the same idea, a simil ar idea took root in St. Augustine. LD: Because it was legit. AH: Yes, and you didn't need the bull fighting. All you had was the history, and of course the shopping and that stuff, but the Columbia was such a natural. LD: Just natural. AH: Yes, tell me wh at kind of memories do you have either of coming to St. Augustine, or after. What were your thoughts? LD: St. Augustine to me is one of the greatest cities in Florida. Was a very loyal immigrant community, you know, composed of Spaniards, Italians, and al l that, but more American. People were aware of tradition; the Castillo San Marcos, et cetera, et cetera When the Columbia got there, it was like a perfect fit. They kept the quality of the food, the patio, the fountain, the atmosphere. The only thing we don't have is the Spanish waiters. You will only find Anglo boys over there. It is very rare to find a Spanish waiter, most of the time it is a Mexican. AH: Yes.
64 LD: But the Columbia was always a perfect fit in there, because Americans were demanding, they knew the name of the Columbia somehow. They already know some how the name of the Columbia one way or another So the Columbia went there. They set the tables, the fountain, the patio; they feel very comfortable with the Spanish food there. AH: Yes. LD: Big success. AH: Well, and you know, I remember hearing the story of when Cesar took the family on vacation, they went through St. Augustine, and he asked a policeman where to get good Spanish food. And the policeman said, "Y ou want to go to Tampa and go to the Columbia. (HD laughing) AH: So, even then before it opened people knew, you know, knew about the Columbia. LD: It's really true. I think it was a perfect fit. AH: And it's interesting, because the Garcias of Los Novedades, they opened a restaurant in Daytona Beach. It didn't work. The timing wasn't right or whatever, it didn't work out. But St. Augustine, when the Columbia went to the East coast, it was. LD: It was logical. AH: Yes, okay. LD: The other operations that they opened that it was natura l was Celebration. Celebration is Richard's baby. AH: Yes. LD: Celebration a lot of people criticized the fact that Richard was going to Celebration, that it was a dream, that it was Disney world, et cetera. AH: Oh, you mean people here thought. LD: In Orl ando. AH: Oh, in Orlando. They didn't think it was a good idea. LD: Merchants in Orlando thought it wasn't such a good idea. AH: Okay.
65 LD: The Columbia became a winner. A high class winner. AH: And how do you explain that? All right, first of all, the peo ple, the nay sayers said it wouldn't work. What specifically did they think wouldn't work, and then why did it work? LD: The association with Disney World that felt like it was faulty. That Disney World would prevail and it would become a Mickey Mouse oper ation. AH: Okay. LD: And then having good managers over there. Richard assigned a young man to run the place, a gentleman from Portugal. AH: Okay. LD: Very capable man and pick up waiters that were Puerto Ricans, Cubans, et cetera, et cetera. The place i s very plain to begin with, very well constructed in the style of Celebration. All the real estate people that were trying to sell their wares told them the Columbia was an ideal place to be there for business. AH: Okay. So. LD: So, they were using the bes t one. They sell high class wine, every seventy or $100 bottle of wine go like crazy over there. AH: Yes. LD: So, the Columbia fit like a glove once in Celebration. AH: Okay. LD: And that was Richard's doing. AH: Okay. LD: Richard behind the idea of it all. AH: Yes, so Sarasota was Casey's baby. LD: Casey's baby is Sarasota. AH: And you would have to say Celebration was Richard's baby. LD: I would say yes. I remember the brothers were always close together.
66 AH: Oh, yes, yes. No and they both have done like you said before they both have done an amazing job. Because there are a lot of new challenges in the business. LD: And Richard in particular is very politically oriented. He knows what's ticking in Tallahassee. Tallahassee continues promoting the Colu mbia as a number one tourist place. AH: Yes. LD: He knows everybody. Casey has relations everywhere. The Columbia, it start in Tampa, has spread slowly. AH: Yes. LD: Without going crazy, because that's one thing they kept it short. AH: Exactly. LD: They own seven restaurants and they try to keep those seven restaurants in places that are every one of them has an area of support. AH: Yes. Just like West Palm Beach, the newest one, is. LD: Is near the convention center, and they have it in the most beautif ul setting of Palm Beach. HD: The Performing Arts Center. AH: Yes. LD: The other one is Celebration, I mean excuse me, the Pier. AH: Yes. LD: You go to St. Petersburg; everybody wants to go to the Pier. AH: Yes. LD: So, the Columbia is there with Cha Cha Coconuts on the Pier, on the fourth floor, very well run by a Portuguese lady. AH: Yes. Okay, and I met her too. LD: Elizabeth. AH: Yes, yes. Nice lady. And then Sand Key.
67 LD: Sand Key is unique, and they're doing better, by the way. Sand Key has run into some trials and tribulations, because of the tremendous problems with the traffic patterns of Clearwater. AH: Oh, yes. LD: And the people who go to Clearwater are there for two or three days, then they are gone. AH: Yes. LD: The fact of the matter is Sand Key has become stronger as they go, you know. Today Sand Key is a place when I go there, you can see place nice and crowded. Slow lunches and big dinners. AH: Yes. LD: Which is were the money is. AH: Oh, yes. And so it's kind of like Sarasota. It just too k a little while for them to find their feet over there. LD: Sarasota is a miracle. AH: Okay. LD: Sarasota is a gold mine. You could manage Sarasota with your hands on your back. AH: Okay, they do that well? LD: Not only do that well, but is well apprecia ted by the locals. AH: Okay. LD: There's a lot of wealth in the part of the world. AH: Oh yes, it's rich and also, they don't have that many good restaurants in Sarasota, from what I've heard. When it comes to good, you know, consistently good food, it's h ard to find. So, the Columbia's perfect that way. LD: The Columbia sits like it can be surrounded by restaurants. The Columbia will always be packed. AH: Yes.
68 LD: Stone crabs and the best good management, good looking boys, good looking ladies, great bar. It's a very good operation. AH: Okay. LD: A very solid operation, with a beautiful gift shop. AH: Okay. LD: The gift shops are magnificent. That's another idea from Richard, from Casey, whatever. Bring back from Spain so beautiful, you cry. There's stuff a t the Columbia Restaurant that is less expensive than you go to Spain and buy it over there. AH: Okay. HD: And I had to drag it over here. AH: What, because they just buy so much volume? LD: Those places in Spain, all those places. I can buy four cases. Richard buys it at cost. HD: (inaudible) AH: All right so. Now, I heard from Richard that times were very difficult after Cesar passed. LD: After Cesar passed away? AH: Yes. That there was a debt, you know, and it took a lot of restructuring finances and the business and everything to kind of get past that. You remember anything about that? LD: Really, that would be presumptuous on my part to say that I know anything about it. You know, sometimes Richard was flying on his own and Casey. They have what a l ot of people in the restaurant business like, they've got wisdom to know how to handle a dollar. AH: Yes. LD: They are the first ones to throw a dollar away, but by the same token, they know that a dollar is 100 percent to be respected in such a way. AH: Y es. LD: There was a lot of good management coming from Richard, the creation of the kitchen. That was a dream.
69 AH: Oh, yes. You mean the new kitchen right? LD: New kitchen. AH: Yes. Okay. LD: And the style that they brought, the equipment that they brought in to that new kitchen. I was on the outside unable to ask the questions, you know, because I don't have the power to ask those questions. AH: Oh, I know, I know. LD: I was appreciating that the kids were doing the right thing at the right time. And slowl y they came up, they have a (inaudible). AH: So, do you think their education in Europe and everything really paid off? LD: To be close to the grandfather and the father. AH: Yes. LD: He said, "T hey went to the university you and I can not afford to go, y ou know. That was the university of life. Richard and Casey, they both went to Spain. They roam all over the country. They doing a lot of crazy things. They saw the father and the mother, the mother, the mother telling them what to do and how to do it at the right time. They put in a sense of wonder. It was something forgotten. AH: Oh yes. LD: I could see the interest of one was bringing a lot of dollars to the restaurant, and then they went to the kitchen and talked to the chef, "L et's move away from the routine. I want you to cook that for me. I want to see how it come up. AH: Yes. LD: And they cultivate all the social they have on the wall, you know, shows and personalities, and people that would come into the Columbia. The wine (inaudible) dinners. Tha t is the greatest idea. AH: Oh yes. That was a great idea. LD: They partied. You want to go to the biggest party. AH: Absolutely. LD: Those dinners are fifty dollars at the Columbia. They're worth one hundred and fifty.
70 AH: Oh, it's a steal. I was invited to go to one of the bourbon ones. LD: Same, same. AH: Same thing. It's a great deal. LD: Incredible ideas and very well done invitations that you felt like, "W ow, this is an event. AH: Yes. LD: He did that and it wasn't for the purpose of he wanted the pu blicity that would come from that. A lot of those Spanish owners and growers go back to Spain and the first thing, "O ye, I was in Florida. Coio, the Columbia Restaurant is the greatest." And then he will start getting letters from all the Spaniards. They want to have dinners at the Columbia. AH: Okay. LD: And all of these suppliers and growers want to dinners with the Columbia. AH: Oh yes. LD: So pretty soon the Columbia, through the laborious efforts of Casey and Richard became, I would say, the sacred gr ound. AH: Yes. LD: Very clever kids. AH: Well, what's interesting about it is; on the one hand you're making friends across the Atlantic with all these people in Spain, and all the wine growers and everything else, and all the suppliers whether you're tal king about the chorizo or anything. But on the other hand, you're educating people here in America of the finer things like wine. And by charging a very reasonable price like you said, they're able at a relatively cheap price to get an education in things like wine and food, and how they go together. And so, it's kind of like, what it reminds me of is Henry Ford. He paid his workers enough money so they could afford to buy one of his cars. LD: Correct! AH: Yes. Well, what Richard and the Columbia are doing now is they are allowing people to afford to eat like a king for a night and get a taste of that good life. So that when they come back they say, "We've got to have some of this wine." We've got to have the best or whatever.
71 LD: Just to give you an idea. I am surrounded by American families. Helen and I had our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Helen, bring us a glass of the champagne. You care to have a glass of the champagne, cold? HD: Would you like to have? AH: Oh, would I like to have one. Oh, sure, sure. LD: This is a AH: It is your fiftieth anniversary? LD: Fifty? I already went through fifty. AH: Okay. LD: So, we had the fiftieth anniversary and we had purchased this in the late fifties [1950s], from the first time that I met my wife, June the fifth, 1 955. We have our dinner, our celebration that day for the date. Fifth was our first date, then (inaudible) was our wedding anniversary. So, we celebrate two fifths. AH: Okay. LD: To make a long story short, the neighbors, all my neighbors, I don't even kno w the names of them, they start coming in, Luis we want No, one of them says, I want you to be my guest for dinner at the Columbia Restaurant. I said, "Y ou want me to be your guest for dinner at the Columbia Restaurant. I said "W hat is the reason? I didn't ask them that but I wondered. I asked my wife, "W hy he wants to invite me? AH: Yes. LD: To make a long story short, when I get to the Columbia Restaurant and all of my neighbors were at the table inviting Helen and me for our fiftieth wedding an niversary. I said, "W hat a touch of class, you know. So, we drank the living hell out of the wine, and that was a very large party. We spent. (Helen serves the wine) AH: Thank you Helen. HD: You're welcome. LD: This is from France. AH: Salud.
72 LD: Salud. W e what we are talking about? AH: Hmm, that's delicious. Well, happy anniversary. Happy late anniversary. We can turn this off now. pause in recording AH: I neglected to ask you before but I thought it, but in the course of conversation you forget it. It mu st have been overwhelming for you when you first got married, and to come here and not only are you in America, but you are in like an immigrant colony in America. HD: My English was very limited. AH: Yes. HD: And when I came here, my husband didn't even h ave an apartment or anything. We were living in a room. AH: Okay. HD: In a room by the week, no? LD: Seven dollars a week. HD: So we stayed in a room until a waiter, a friend of ours, came to him and told him this is not the way. And he helped us to go and find an apartment. LD: Remember, I'm from a well to do family. No brother, not even a sister. I remember. I am a very astute individual, in the minds of my family. AH: Yes. LD: No one came and said, "W here are you going to be living with Helen? Nobody s aid that. Nobody said, Do you need fifty dollars ? Do you need one hundred dollars ? AH: Yes. LD: I had to bring my wife from New York in a Greyhound bus. AH: Okay. LD: Thirty nine hours. AH: Okay. Now, on the one hand, they didn't offer any help, but you didn't ask, either.
73 LD: No. AH: No. Yes. LD: And I was happy and content. HD: I was living for about two weeks in that apartment. It was atrocious. I mean, termites. In the morning, I sweep, and in the morning I have a pile of things from the termites aga in. So, then another waiter, he had a house and in back he has a bungalow, and that happens to be vacated by somebody, and he offered my husband that, and I was living there for two years. And that's where my children were born. AH: What's in a bungalow? HD: It's a bungalow. This is a bedroom, a kitchen, a living room plus LD: Garage. HD: two garages on the bottom. AH: Okay. LD: We had the garage under the house. AH: Okay, I see. HD: And the landlady, the waiter's wife, she was from Cuba, but she was bor n in Syria. LD: Syria. AH: Oh, okay. HD: So, my Spanish, what I picked up was from her, because we were together the whole day and she took me underneath her wings and everything else. And when he'd come home and I said a word in Spanish, what I learned du ring the day. He'd go, "W ait a minute. I never forget he was telling me, "L uz, to light. AH: Okay. HD: And he says, "No, no this is not the way. You have to do it this way." And he always corrected me in the word. And then I got very friendly with a nei ghbor of my landlady. And that was Grace Guinta. She used to be the owner of LD: Kash n' Karry [Food Stores, grocery store regional chain]. HD: Kash n' Karry. Okay?
74 AH: Okay. HD: So, I mean I belong to the garden club, and she is still there. I mean she' s awesome. AH: Yes. HD: And that's how we went through the two years, but Grace has stayed friends through the thing that I'm in. I mean we don't get together, but we see each other occasionally. AH: Yes. HD: So, slowly I learned English. He bought me a TV [television], because I didn't go out anywhere. We didn't have a car or anything. I didn't know anything about LD: Tampa. HD: I stayed home and I actually, literally watched the soap operas and I'm still hooked on it. (laughs) AH: Yes. HD: But that is ho w I learned a lot of English, with the soap operas. Then, when we bought our first house, then my neighbors, they're all Latin guys, we moved in, in the same year. We all moved in within months in the neighborhood. AH: Okay. HD: And they took us under thei r wings and the English came, Helen, you don't say it that way. It is wrong. A lot people take offense. I never took offense. I am very grateful. Like the other day I said something to my friend. She told me, Helen, this is not the way to say it okay. But I appreciate that. Some people take offense. I don't. I am very appreciative to correct me. AH: Okay. HD: So, most of our friends are Latin from way back. I mean we have forty eight years, forty eight years, we are friends and we still friends, still good friends. LD: Same ladies, same ladies. HD: I lost some of them already. And now I made friends around here and they are all Latin people over here. And you know. LD: Once we make a friend, it's a friend. HD: Yes.
75 AH: Oh yes. LD: I don't remember ever in being effective in kicking a friendship. We have friends they go back fifty years. They're friends. I never change that. Now we are the oldest people in this neighborhood . [Portion of interview omitted at the request of LD and HD] LD: Well, anyway, the rest of the neighborhood, Americans. Every one of them struggling working for idea, working for rent, working for the other, or working for the community school, the university. Everybody wonderful neighbors. AH: Yes LD: And we are like. AH: Oh, it's a beautiful neighborhood. Yes. LD: We're the senior citizens over here. AH: Yes. LD: I did the reverse of what a lot of people do, you know. Most people have a big house then they move to a smaller house. I move from HD: Small house to a big house. (laugh s) LD: True! AH: Well, the memories of that little apartment with the termites. God bless you. You deserve some of the finer things. (HD laughing) LD: That's, I think, you put it exactly the way that I felt. AH: Yes. LD: I've given my wife a lot of hard t imes. Let her have her home. AH: Well, it is like I said, I wasn't just being nice. It is a beautiful neighborhood. HD: Well, let me tell you something. I come from very humble backgrounds. I was brought up during the war. I went through the war, so I know what it is, I tell you, I live like a queen.
76 AH: Yes. HD: I mean, I'm the only daughter. I have no brothers or sisters. I mean my family catered to me, okay. Don't get me wrong. My husband's the proof. But I lived through the war, there was nothing and e verything else, and we had a beautiful home. My grandmother, we were living with my grandmother because my father was in the war, and there was nothing actually that I was lacking of. AH: Yes. HD: I was very fortunate in that thing, because my mom worked a nd everything else. But it just, I don't know, it just I live like a queen. AH: Yes. HD: Because whatever happens I bettered myself a hundred times, a thousand times from what I came from. AH: Yes. Well, that's just great. LD: It's been very good and she's saying, I am the guy that is the king, because she has made me king. AH: Yes. LD: This has been a dream relationship. And she does her thing and I do mine, you know. I like to work on the patio I love to be on the outside of the house: painting, cleanin g, putting more whatever I need to do. And she does everything inside. So it's a good relationship. AH: Yes (chuckling). HD: I like arts and crafts and things like that, so I do that. Many years ago I like to sew a lot. My hand fall asleep now, but I do ev erything, I mean, I like to do things. I don't like to just sit back and AH: Yes, well, you guys are the type for retiring and just fading away, you know. HD: Oh, no. I'm not going to sit home. (laughing) AH: Well, you sat home enough with the kids. HD: I raised my kids. I was very fortunate my husband worked and I stayed home with my children. AH: Yes.
77 LD: You know surprisingly, my children make twice what I make to be comfortable and they don't know how to handle the money and I'm the father. They do ten times better than I, but they can't economics. I can't figure it out. AH: Okay. LD: When they want something, they get it. AH: Yes. LD: Me, I will think about it ten times, until it's the right opportunity. AH: Yes. HD: That is why they call you the procr astinator. (LD laughs) AH: You just want to consider everything before you do it. LD: But they I appreciate the times. Just to give you an idea of how the times have changed. Regardless the education background that I have, one thing that still mystify me to no end, when I'm at the company, the company felt, when I was working. The chairman of the company wrote me personally. He said, Luis, if I could clone you again I would be glad to do it. Something very nice. I kept the letter because I'm blown over by that. They took me to New York, and my wife. Magnificent good bye party at HD: The Twin Towers. AH: Oh, really, at the World Trade Center? LD: Yes, at the World Trade Center. How do you call the at the Windows of the World. And I got this incredible pa rty, and I kept telling my wife, "I can't believe that this is happening to me." But it happened. AH: Yes. LD: We have a lot of fantastic people, etcetera, etcetera, and we left [in 90 th ]. My boss kept [Luis] as a consultant for three years, which is somet hing that it was the first time that they bestow that honor upon a soldier because that's all I was, a soldier. AH: Yes. LD: But I thought this American company treated me like I was spectacular. I was just another (inaudible) off to work, you know. What I was doing was natural.
78 AH: Yes. LD: But anyway, time comes to say good bye, and I felt like they say in America very graciously. and I kept treasuring those memories. I say, Coo, how lucky I was ." AH: Yes. LD: You know, my children, everything that th ey do, they feel like they are just doing a [good deed] to the company that they work for. AH: Yes. LD: I remain grateful to my company. If I live to be one hundred years I will remember my company with a great deal of respect. They treat people with a gr eat deal of decorum. It was a great group of people. I'm going to interject something, that I have something to do. You are a man on a magnificent task. This is like an endeavor that you are going to enjoy yourself a great deal. AH: Oh, yes. LD: You know, you are dealing with young people that are extremely professional: Richard, Casey, Melanie, and don't forget the wife of Casey is a brilliant young lady too. AH: Well, and LD: And you are going to corners that are totally unknown to me. But it is such a rewarding operation. I don't know if there is a restaurant in the state of Florida that has the background of the Columbia. AH: No, no, nothing comes close. LD: Amazing. e nd of interview
79 Remaining Questions for the Interviewer/Interviewee: At time s it is difficult for the Transcriber/Audit Editor to hear what is being said. Empty underlining designates the spaces where speech was inaudible. Page 6 little innocent (unsure if this is what was said) Page 9 And I said but you don't have to rely off t he interests of our (unsure if this is what was said) Page 10 We have been writing this for years (unsure if this is what was said) Page 12 for (unsure if this is what was said) Page 14 I didn't really have a (unsure if this is what was said) Page 16 B usy work (unsure if this is what was said) Page 16 That's the truth (unsure if this is what was said) Page 17 Grimaldi (correct spelling?) Page 17 HD: What three years after ? (unsure if this was said) Page 18 three years after (or two years after?) Page 23 Joaquim Noda (correct spelling?) Page 23 Luis Belizantana (correct spelling?) Page 33 Camanera (correct spelling?) Page 35 Conoral (correct spelling?) Page 35 Raul (correct name and spelling?) Page 40 Apartido O rturoso (correct name and spelling?) Page 43 Perpinga (correct spelling?) Page 45 Chevlin and Company (correct name and spelling?) Page 48 Torilla (correct spelling?)
80 Page 55 That was real news you understand. (unsure if this is what was said). Page 59 Alvarez (correct spelling?) Page 62 And then there comes the time, intelligent people can remember this (correct?) Page 63 Galliagos (spelling?) Page 64 El Cuco del A cero (correct spelling?) Page 73 Chatelaine (correct spelling?) Page 76 Junta (correct spelling?) Page 80 casasol (correct spelling?)
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Luis Diaz, Helen Diaz
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Andrew Huse.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (95 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Columbia Restaurant oral history project
Interview conducted October 9, 2006.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Luis Diaz, cousin of Columbia Restaurant third-generation owner/operator Cesar Gonzmart, discusses his career at the Columbia Restaurant. Mr. Diaz discusses the wine industry; memories of Havana, Cuba; his family's Spanish heritage; and the cigar-making industry. Mr. Diaz also discusses the challenges of the restaurant business and his relationship with his cousin, Cesar Gonzmart. He also discusses the history of the family name Gonzmart. He ends the interview with a discussion of his children.
Columbia Restaurant (Fla.)
Ybor City (Tampa, Fla.)
Huse, Andrew T.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS