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1 Columbia Restaurant Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Interview with : Richard Gonzmart (RG) with input from Melanie Gonzmart (MG) Interview by : Andrew (Andy) Huse (AH) Interview d ate: January 21, 2007 Interview l ocation: Home of Richard and Melanie Gonzmart (Tampa, FL) Transcribed by: Cyrana Wyker Transcription d ate: March 12, 2007 and March 21, 2007 Audit Edit by : Catherine Cottle Audit Edit d ate: April 9, 2008 Final Edit by: Catherine Cottle Final Edit date: July 14, 2008 Tape 2, part 2 Interview, side A e nds, Part 3 Richard Gonzmart I nterview starts on same side of Tape 2 Part 3 of 3 Interviews Andrew Huse : Okay. We're live. All right, so first of all let's start with the first, you know, the first expansion. Sarasota. I know that was pretty early on, right? Richard Gonzmart : That was 1958, I believe. AH: Okay. RG: We were open in fifty nine . (woman speaks) AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: A gentlemen named Joe Hamilton, a developer, I imagine, had created restaurants in St. Armands Circle [Sarasota] called Club Jora. Melanie Gonzmart : Jora? Could I get something is wet (sound of dishes). RG: Club Jora. J O R A. AH: Okay. RG: But St. Arma nds Circle was still really not discovered. He was in the restaurant business, and I'm not sure how he contacted my father. AH: So what, Jora wasn't doing well is that it?
2 RG: (sounds of agreement) AH: Okay. RG: They gave my dad an opportunity to go there. My dad had to sell my grandfather on the idea of expanding AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: to help support the decline of Ybor City. It was premature but he was a visionary. He saw the opportunity. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: And today, what y ou see in Sarasota is the world class shopping with one hundred eighty plus shops in the circle, one quarter mile of the Gulf of Mexico, Leto Beach. The most beautiful beach in Florida as far as I am concerned. And we opened there, and I remember as a youn g boy my dad would go there and we would stay in these apartments above the restaurant. They were pretty sparse, but I didn't know any better. And we'd go there and had little wall unit air conditioners, so I thought that was kind of cool. They were studio apartments, but we'd stay there and we'd go on occasion. But I looked forward to going there because there was a hobby store and they had these little trains and islands and that. And my mother would tell me she would take me there. So there was always th at lure of going there to see them. And they bought me the HO trains. They were made in Germany. MG: I have a question. RG: They were great. The smoke came out of the stack. So that's my memories of going in the circle, and the middle of the courtyard. And not much happening, not much activity. MG: Where was that arcade? RG: Directly opposite the MG: That's what I thought. That was still in existence when my kids were little. AH: Okay. RG: (murmers) MG: Yes it was. Your mother and I would go there and buy little miniatures and things. RG: We went there. But the restaurant was struggling, no plan really in place, opened up the Columbia and Sarasota was still a circus town probably and the Ringling's had their
3 mansion. But the wealthy people fr om up North had not relocated like it is today. The -1961 Mr. Hamilton offered my dad to buy the building for 240,000 dollars. AH: Okay. RG: My dad wanted to but that was beyond his means at the time. My grandfather wouldn't support him and my grandfathe r himself wasn't well. And I just remember my father telling that story "G osh we could've bought the restaurant, the building for 240,000 dollars. AH: Wow. RG: Today we pay 50,000 dollars a month for rent. AH: Oh man. MG: (laughs) AH: That's somet hing, huh? MG: One of those should haves. AH: Yes, well one of those examples to where you know it's always, like the last book painted Cesar as a real kind of amateur and everything. And where it's a little bit of an awfully savvy move. It would've paid dividends down the road. RG: Couldn't pay it though. Couldn't buy it and so this went on to open in 1969. I believe it was or seventy , my brother finished school in Spain and he came back to run the Los (inaudible) restaurant which is the compet ition for the Columbia as Florida's oldest restaurant founded in 1897, bought by Mr. Manuel Garcia, who had been my grandfather's partner. AH: Yes. RG: And he had received wonderful recognition over the years, but through the decline of Ybor City, they didn't stay with the times, didn't make the contribution. They were union and they went trying to break the union they hired female servers. In those days that was taboo. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: And that was the end of them. And so Casey went to work there and one day my dad told my brother [that] the general manager of Sarasota, Mr. Jerry Guiness who my dad had a lot of confidence in, he found out that Jerry Guiness was cheating him, and doin g something else and taking foods at another place he invested in. So he sent my brother
4 there. So that was the beginning of the Columbia. In 1981 or so is when Mr. Lawrence Lewis sent that gentlemen. I think I talked about that in the past. AH: Yes, abou t the St. Augustine. RG: And so, you know, I volunteered to go there for two months. My dad's reason for wanting to go there was his trip there, 1960, in our car trip and not having a Spanish restaurant. And his reason was Mr. Lewis would make it a one h undred percent turn key job, wouldn't pay rent unless we made money. It was a Cesar deal if there ever was one. AH: Yes. Absolutely. RG: We stayed there two years and then eighty five  my dad negotiated to open up in Harbour Island [Tampa], and we came back home to start up a commissary that was trying to do, to service that restaurant with product from Ybor City. Although that idea was ill fated somewhat it worked. MG: I would like to say one of your biggest fortes is opening restaurants. He's RG: So we opened that. I didn't want to be involved in managing. I wasn't ready for that project. And it was only two miles down from the Columbia. AH: Oh, this commissary was this RG: No the commissary was built within the Columbia. AH: Oh I see. R G: The Columbia Harbour Island was two miles down from the Columbia. MG: Cesar finally got his black and white floors. AH: Oh I see. RG: Cesar wanted to put a black and white floor in the Siboney. And my grandfather would never let him do it, so he fin ally did that there. AH: Okay. RG: It was you know near where the [Tampa] Convention Center was going to be. Well, we had a ten year lease with an option, in the ten years, we realized it'd be best to move because the whole complex was disarray. They didn't know what they were going to do, and they had got rid of the retail. So we left. That was the best thing to do, because it was too close to the Columbia for it to be a full fledged Columbia. AH: Yes.
5 RG: Nineteen eighty seven, eighty seven , eighty eight , we opened the Pier [downtown St. Petersburg]. Also at Harbour Island, we opened Cha cha Coconuts. We developed, expanded, because my father wanted to experiment when everybody else was pulling out and expanding. AH: Okay. RG: And the pier, a million dollar pier, had opened I think in the early seventies maybe. AH: Okay. RG: And they were now going to start renovating it and trying to make it really a tourist attraction. There was a restaurant on the fourth floor, on the fifth floor they had an ice cream shop, they had put a putting green, all these things that never did anything. So they approached us. And we went up there, thought it was a beautiful opportunity. It was a gorgeous view. AH: Oh yes. RG: And we brought our Cha Cha Coconuts concept up there. And I ca n remember opening that with the team that we had there. It was exciting and instead of using the elevators I was training and then I was at that point I had started losing weight, eighty five , training for my triathlons. And I found it exciting to run up and down the stairs from the first to the fourth to the fifth floor. I would just do it. God, I can remember how it was a great feeling. I could beat the elevators. AH: (laughs) RG: So, we got that restaurant but then in 1989, and now my father u nder a gentlemen that had been around, Bill Patterson, Bill Patterson. I think he was in Tampa. AH: Okay. RG: Bill Patterson. I think my father knew him from Harbour Island was representing a group from Ohio. They were developing a project on Sand Key. T hey gave one of my dad's deals, this and that, probably wasn't the best deal. Rent was too high. AH: Okay. RG: And whatever the landlord owned all the equipment, but finally now, we've operated long enough now that we have a great deal. AH: Okay. MG: (laughs) (inaudible).
6 RG: Now here we are 2007 now and it opened in eighty nine . And I think we have to renew the lease in a couple of years. And have the option so I'm looking forward to the option with no increase. The landlord is not going to be happy, the projects been sold AH: Oh. RG: So, we'll find out what happens there. But we opened that. We opened up Cha Cha's. We opened Cha Cha's in the Columbia I think it was on Christmas weekend, and we had a bitter, bitter, bitter cold that year. S o cold that we lost power. We opened and we had to close for two days, because we had no power. AH: Oh my. RG: Yes. AH: You mean because so much power was being used in the area because it was so cold. RG: (sounds of agreement) AH: Okay. MG: And we h ad already sold Harbour Island. RG: No, we did not. Don't start. MG: I'm sorry. RG: We didn't. I'll tell the story. That same weekend, we opened Cha Cha Coconuts in Sarasota. AH: Okay. RG: We had this scenario of how we are going to open up both Casey opened that one over there. So we operated then, that went on in eighty nine , and my dad passed away in 1992. He had started negotiating for a restaurant in Daytona, and because he wanted to, that dream, we did. And that was ill fat ed But in the opportunity to restructure the company, 1995, the Columbia of Harbour Island had been opened ten years. And we had an option to either extend it or get out. And the situation of the company so I said it didn't really make sense to take the ch ance because Harbour Island, and we didn't know what was going to happen there. AH: (sounds of agreement)
7 RG: And we closed Harbour Island down in July. In 1995, we had been waiting for years for the convention, we'd been waiting for the residents to co me, we'd been waiting for the shops, waiting and waiting and the management didn't know what direction they were going to go in. They weren't going to allow music outside. They were going to have the complex in construction for two or three years. And we w eren't we were doing fine there at the time we closed AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: But we didn't want to take that chance and suffer. AH: Okay. Yes, Jim Garris talked about the actual pull out and everything. And you just gave the more over arching e xplanation. Because he said the restaurant was doing quite well. RG: Jim Garris was the general manager. It was doing quite well; it was doing great. We had a good following. But we realized we had to focus on what was going to be a success for us. And t his was a time when we had to reconfigure our company, our structure. I made the decision we had to pull out not to take the chance of taking the losses, because we had to open up in Daytona Beach with three concepts. The project was supposed to have been twenty thousand dollars a month in rent. And the C.F.O. at the time didn't keep us abreast of the many issues that we had, and it ended up being about forty, fifty thousand dollars a month with no control. MG: What was his name? RG: Jay Ostrown. O S T R O W N. And so we decided I negotiated my way out of that. AH: Okay. RG: Because the project just started with a bang. We didn't have systems in place. That is where I got my Ph.D. AH: (laughs) RG: Negotiation and business and so forth. So we had to r efigure and reload. And during all this turmoil we knew. The company was questioned on our ability to survive. I got a phone call from somebody claiming to be with Disney World. And so many people always say, "W e're with Disney World. We're with Disney Wor ld and we have a project for you. They'd call and call. I wouldn't call them back, never wanted to tell anybody. So finally I went to Kissimmee on (inaudible) and saw the project, this big building and saw Mickey's ears everywhere. And I went up to the n inth floor, the top floor where I introduced myself, and they took me to a conference room called the Goofy Conference Room.
8 AH: (laughs) RG: That's about how I felt because I was really doubting it. I wasn't prepared really for a real serious group. But again my I learned some from my negotiations and so then I talked to them and talked to them. I didn't return their calls for like three we eks, five weeks and then we talked and I went back to Lee Sanders who I had hired as a consultant to Dennis (inaudible) who had now been my C.F.O., company wasn't really strong enough to take this chance but I saw that we were coming, that the plan I put i n place was going to be a success. So we started talking, negotiating they really wanted us, they didn't want a chain. And it got a point like they were flying me first class to New York to met Robert Stern who's on the Board of Directors of Disney, he's o ne of the leading architects in the country, he was the architect for all Celebration, I meet with him. And meanwhile I got this plan set up and it's like they were a little pregnant. MG: No, they were very pregnant. RG: They were very pregnant. So a lit tle pregnant, very pregnant, what's the difference. They had invested so much. And I sat in the driver's seat and one day I said to Lee Sanders and I felt like he's an ass he wouldn't get it And I was arguing about the cam charge, (inaudible) and mainten ance charge and they wanted it to be ten dollars a square foot with escalating to some number. And I said, "N o it can't be that, it be three dollars a square foot. Went on and on and the head of the company says, Well, really angry, "W hat else do you have? I says, This is the last thing I'm requesting. And they said, "W e've got to do it. So they got what they wanted, we got what we wanted. We got restaurant designed and built out AH: Okay. MG: Doesn't hurt to ask RG: This is good wine. MG: T he red wine makes him a bit AH: Oh yes. RG: Sometimes. AH: Not the white though? RG: It depends, I can feel it coming on, take something for it now. But this happened, we designed it and built it and it's been a tremendous success. Everybody in my fam ily and the company didn't agree with me, but I had felt I had took over, believed I was going with my gut feelings. I felt Disney World had the pulse of what was happening in Florida. Anything Disney was involved with would be a success
9 AH: Yes. RG: a t the time. I said, "H ow could we fail? I didn't want to put a Columbia in a tourist oriented location. I wanted to put it in something where residents would come or locals and that still would have allure of the tourists. It was literally I think two or three miles from the Disney gates. So that was that opportunity. That was great. AH: Well, how do you think Cesar would have felt about it? It seems to me that he would've loved RG: Cesar is smiling. Cesar for years always when Disney was coming to Orlando he wanted so bad to be with Disney. And he'd opened a Columbia in sixty eight  or so in the J Park Plaza Hotel overlooking Lake Eola It was beautiful. This gentleman had b ought the hotel and was going to make it a first class hotel. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: He never fulfilled it. And my dad [didn't have] a system nor the management style to do this. And they ended up making it a retirement home, which that was the en d. So we got out. AH: Oh. RG: As a sixteen, seventeen year old, started driving a truck with product in it all the time. AH: Now what was the name of that hotel again? RG: J Park Plaza Hotel. Lake Eola. AH: Now how do you spell it? RG: E O L A. AH : Okay. RG: There are some fine restaurants there now. It wasn't near Disney Land, but it was in Orlando. So that was interesting. AH: Yes. Now let's go back to Cha Cha Coconuts for a minute. Tell me about how the concept got started and who was involved and RG: My dad had gone down to Miami to Bayside and seen this daiquiri b ar and they were doing all these crazy numbers which I can't remember. AH: Okay.
10 RG: Some of the daiquiris had ice coming down from a plexiglass tube from above of ice makers, and they're just serving frozen daiquiris in a clear plastic cup. And my dad wanted to do that in Harbour Island. But the thing was, Bayside had thousands of people. Harbour Island did not. AH: Now this is Bayside where now? RG: Bayside in Miami. AH: M iami. Okay. MG: Near the courts. RG: It's the Spanish restaurant next to their basketball arena. AH: Okay. RG: I think the project's doing well today. I think it was a Rousc Project, R O U S C. Rousc Development. AH: Okay. RG: And so I went to do th at and I said, "D ad it's not going to work. Here Harbour Island was failing, and people were pulling out. And the current managers of it came up with a deal. The space was fourteen hundred square feet, which is very, very small. AH: (sounds of agreemen t) RG: We didn't have the money in order to do it. And we built it on a shoestring, but I hired a manager from Parker s Lighthouse who had been there and seen the business and knew MG: Where was Parker s Lighthouse? RG: Parker s Lighthouse was in Harbo ur Island. AH: Okay. RG: But now Gasparilla [Tampa Pirate Festival] Invasion, you know Gasparilla Invasion is a huge day in Tampa and all the boats would dock there. We were desperately trying to get finished for that Gasparilla day. AH: (sounds of agreement)
11 RG: And I couldn't get it done. I was real, real close. I couldn't the C.O. [certificate of occupancy]. I told Harbour Island Hotel, "You've got to get your C.O. And I said I'll get my C.O. And so here comes, the Gasparilla day, I got the building permit and I signed my name, signed my name to it. AH: Okay. RG: I said, I got the C.O. And he said, "Are you sure?" I showed him where we got our C.O. AH: Okay. RG: And so I served opened that day, we sold forty thousand dollars in liquor. AH: (laughs) RG: And the day after I closed the restaurant down, because we had not received our C.O. AH: Okay. RG: I knew I was going to get busted. AH: Okay. RG: And the fire marshal had been on Harbour Island that day and he came by and said, "Y o u guys were open ." We weren't open. He says, looks at me he says I was here. AH: (laughs) RG: Inspectors had come, they were looking, there was no food, there was no liquor anywhere. We had cleared it all out. AH: Okay. RG: We had a huge day. We needed the money to be able to finish the deal. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: So it took about two more weeks. We opened and MG: He always found a way too. It's like even the bathrooms, the walls were painted on the Cha Cha Coconuts side so that the do or blended right in. AH: Yes.
12 MG: And on the Columbia side it was all mirrored on the door and everything. But that was the we were connected. AH: Yes. MG: So our bathrooms and the Columbia you could use. AH: Oh I see. RG: But we used the same licen ses, liquor licenses, the building just wasn't done. So we got that open. AH: I see. RG: So the day Cha Cha Coconuts AH: What's C.O.? RG: Certificate of Occupancy. AH: Okay. RG: Showing that you passed electrical, you passed AH: Oh, I see. RG: Health inspection. MG: (inaudible) AH: Yes. RG: Before you can occupy the building for business, you had to get a certificate of occupancy, a C.O. AH: Okay, yes. RG: And you had to get the plumbing, electrical, HVAC, health department. I had none of t hat. AH: Okay. RG: But we were able to open, we were just serving drinks. AH: Yes, yes. Cesar would've been proud, eh?
13 MG: Rum Runners. RG: Cesar was there. AH: Oh, Cesar was there. RG: Cesar was very proud. AH: Yes, I bet. RG: He was very, very proud. MG: He even liked his style. RG: The name Cha Cha Coconuts came we were dealing with the architect in Orlando. The name of his company was Form Architecture. He name is Norman Staehr, S T A E H R. AH: Okay. RG: I remember that. MG: [Inaudibe] RG: And we were there planning it. And he, I'm not sure how we found him. And we were sitting in the space, trying to come up with a name. I want to call it something. My dad wanted to call it something else. My dad and I were fighting back and forth. M y brother barks out, could have been a long time I don't care if ya'll want to call it Cha Cha Mambo Coconuts ," and we all looked each other "W hat a great name. AH: (laughs) RG: Now my brother said, "Y ou guys are crazy. My dad liked it. I liked it. The architect liked it. The next plan said Cha Cha Mambo Coconuts. MG: All the plans from then on. RG: My brother kept on saying, "You all are crazy." But, we got the name. But we realized Cha Cha Mambo Coconuts was a little too long so we limited it to Cha Cha Coconuts. AH: Coconuts. Nice. Now do you remember what any of the alternative names were? RG: No. AH: Like the one that you wanted?
14 RG: No. AH: Okay. Just curious. MG: Just wasn't as good. AH: Yes, yes, just didn't stick, you know, just didn't stick. This is great, by the way. I like the biscuit like thing; it's not so sweet. MG: Bisquic k. AH: Okay nice. MG: The recipe is on the side. RG: So then we when the Pier opportunity came about from the city on the top floor it was natural for a tropical bar and grill, limited kitchen space. The kitchen we had in Harbour Island was eight feet by four feet. AH: (inaudible). RG: And we had similar there. We had very limited space at the Pier. We wanted the ability to service the whole fourteen thousand square foot top of the pier. And we initiated that by opening with the Atlantic Rhythm Secti on, doing a free concert. AH: Okay. RG: I had to be in Ybor that night for the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce Gala, I think it was. And I was the Chairman of I was president of Ybor City, Chairman at the time so I had to rush back. And my brother had never been involved so I said, "Y ou've got to stay here. Meanwhile we had two thousand plus people come up to the roof. I had to leave just before the concert started, free concert, it was 98 Rock [radio station]. AH: Okay. RG: And people from all over I left before they started but we had the power to do the sound and all. We didn't realize the Fire Marshal tells us, "I believe you guys have about a thousand people here. But we did n't have restrooms. So the men were going there were four stairwells a nd it was like the river of yellow falls. AH: (laughs) RG: The guys were standing there and it was just a river, a waterfall going down. AH: Oh my.
15 RG: So, it was a mess. But we learned from that that we went on to do many concerts to bring the adverti sing. We did the Lo s Do s Shows, Los Dos We had Meatloaf do two concerts there. AH: Okay. RG: Sold out three times. AH: Wow. RG: I did a jazz festival one weekend with top notch Da v e Valentine We had MG: (inaudible). RG: You threw me off. I can't remember J oe Albright We had two or three acts a night, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And it was just great. We did it with the jazz station which was 102.5 back then, 102 and half. And it was just great. All my friends just couldn't deal with it. The l ast night was Joe Albright. MG : (inaudible). RG: And I can't remember this great base player. All famous guys. There was another time when we did MG: The guys name was RG: We did The Romantics on Friday night. AH: Okay. RG: We did Rick Springfield on Sunday night right after we did back to back because I figured I have all the sound out there. It cost me less. If you booked if you bought the ticket the day of the show, it cost you more. The Romantics had sold out, Rick Springfield hadn't but then Rick Springfield sold out. And I was there, my wife didn't want to be. My buddy's wife was there. And there must've been nine hundred women and fifty men. And I didn't know who Rick Springfield was. He was an old soap opera star. And I'm seei ng those women waving their panties. I said, Holy mackerel, what is this? (laughter) You seen those women, all these women throwing their panties gosh almighty. But that was just amazing. I did Mark, Mark, Mark, forgot his name. MG: (inaudible). RG: He was the leader of the band. Mark AH: Okay. I'm sure I could look that up.
16 RG: And he had become a born again Christian. He was doing Christian rock. But I brought him in. The only thing I couldn't play, couldn't play a song that it was American Man bec ause he didn't write that Mark MG: Mark Farmer. RG: Farmer. Farner. F A R N E R. AH: Okay. RG: And so I meet Mark and he's a great guy. He's meeting these people, doing Christian. But now the Pier management is freaking out, because they heard a rum or that there was two hundred fifty motorcyclists coming, bikers. MG: I've never seen so many bikers in my life. RG: A bunch of bikers. It was rough crowd. And so it was a sold out audience, one thousand people. I had him on the East side playing from N orth to South and there was a thunderstorm, lighting storm out in the North beyond Gandy [Bridge] and Howard Frankland [Bridge], and John Kays telling me, "W e're not going to play there's lightening out there. I said "T hat's twenty miles away, it's not raining you guys got to play. And so they get up and play. I had a lways loved that was from my day being in my rock and roll band. AH: Yes. RG: And I am there having the time, talking all the time, "C an you believe they're here ?" And I'm talking the whole time. The next thing I know they're playing "Born to Be Wild." I'm at the end of the concert. I said, "You mean the concert ended?" It was an hour and a half. And I'm there ,"Y ou guys got to go back on. Well now they weren't going back for anything AH: Yes. RG: because the lightening was all around us. AH: Okay. RG: So that was cool. I couldn't get I missed the whole show because I was talking to so many people. I was excited. It's like when Meatloaf came the second time. He was playing the Sou thwest corner. And I can't remember if it was Festival of States or something was going on. AH: Okay.
17 RG: It was just a great the best concert I've ever seen. Both concerts were the best concerts I've ever seen. Just energy. He had these two blondes, sis ters, they were great singers. And just the timing couldn't have been better that he finished his finale and then they do the fireworks display for the end of the festival, right behind him. AH: Oh wow. RG: It was like we had planned it. AH: Yes, yes. MG: Part of the show. RG: I said, "G osh almighty ." So, it was the jazz concert was Tuck and Patty AH: Okay. Yes. RG: Dave Valentino on flute. My dad was there. He couldn't believe how great he played. I brought a group from Miami called go head, Melanie. MG: But you knew that you had to I mean, the Pier was new and you needed to create a sensation to get people there. And you were innovative enough to create all of these jazz festivals AH: Yes. MG: and these things that nobody else would do. AH: Yes. RG: The reason I did it is to have the marketing necessary. You could advertise and nothing comes about. So I would partner with radio stations I said, "H ey I'm going to let you be co sponsor of this event. AH: Okay. RG: All you've got to d o is give us air time and be a promoter. And it wasn't for profit. It was a low dough. AH: Okay. RG: Or one oh two and a half. A dollar, two cents. AH: Yes.
18 RG: And what I calculated was the cost of the show and the sound but I also calculated the cos t, revenue from the liquor. AH: Yes. RG: So how do you get your name out there? You owned air waves, and I might call the radio station, "Hey, we (inaudible) and they'd blast it some more. And so the way I look at it, this is a way to market my concept. AH: Yes. RG: And the Columbia would do well. One day we were doing a jazz, new age type oh, I can't remember his name. AH: Okay. RG: It was winter and all of a sudden, god, it was thirty five degrees outside and I had to move him down to the third floor Baker Room, but thank goodness he wasn't a big act. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: Mike Panera. We did on New Years, on Halloween, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. AH: Oh, nice. MG: I was a witch, and he was a pilot. RG: We did the Spencer Da vis Group. Mike Panera from Blues Image from Iron Butterfly. Got up and played with them. This was a way to took a lot of work, took a lot of talking to people, it took a lot of selling AH: Yes. RG: making it happen. Getting it on the radio. It was, b oy, a lot of publicity. AH: Yes, now what I'm interested in is with the radio partnership, would they promote just the concert or they promote Cha Cha Coconuts too? RG: They'd promote Cha Cha Coconuts, the concert at Cha Cha Coconuts. AH: Okay. RG: The whole deal was hey, they'd talk about the food. And you know Guavaween [festival] was starting in Ybor City. And I convinced the Pier to do something to compete with Pier a Ween.
19 AH: Okay. RG: And we got Mason Dixon to come out there. We did a concert in the front. We'd do these concerts. We drew a lot of people. AH: yes. RG: There was a lot of people there. And I just remember Mason, I can't remember the bands, we did this for years. So we got people who weren't going to go to Gauvaween. And I was dr essed like an Indian and I painted my body red and Mason was up there and I had tied a chorizo [sausage], which was red underneath my loin cloth. And I kind of took my leg up and this woman went looking for the manager to complain that I was exposing mysel f. MG: It was this woman. RG: And that, they should throw me out. And he said, "Ma'am, this is the owner." I go up and I just grab, I give her my loincloth. I pull it out and it's just a chorizo. And I threw it on her table. She didn't find that funny. MG: At all. (inaudible). AH: Yes. RG: But Mason Dixon to this day, will always remember. He would talk about it on the radio. Richard the Indian, and his loincloth, (laughter) down the street and just pull it out. I was just having fun. AH: Yes, yes. R G: And this woman was really furious. AH: Wow. RG: But Mason happened to be there, and he laughed his ass off. AH: I bet. Well you know it's interesting here to think about parallels between you and Cesar. I mean Cesar, in his day brought in people fro m the Latin circuit and everything. And you're kind of doing the same thing but casting the net even wider. Because these are all bands that people knew and grew up with, I mean Stepping Wolf, I don't know if you can cast a wider net than that. MG: There was a need at that time too for people our age. We didn't have any there was nowhere to go.
20 RG: Meatloaf had a great selling album and then he had his difficulties with his management. I was able to secure him for these two concerts. But he is legendary and the first time we did the concert we had all these people dressed I'd never seen the movie Horry -AH: Rocky Horror RG: Yes. And I'd never seen that movie and all these people came dressed in his character. I didn't know. I said "W hat are these people is this Halloween? And they're all dressed as characters. It was a cult following. AH: Oh, yes. RG: And I couldn't wait to get him back. Well now Meatloaf, thank goodness, became famous again; making big money and I could never afford him again. AH: Yes. RG: But you know all these different acts were cool. The Columbia prior to that I would team up WMNF, PBS [Public Broadcasti ng Station] radio station whatever it is. AH: Yes, yes, 88.5, yes community. RG: And they were doing something at the Cuban Club with some blues and I bought a little note with them. And I saw in the Siboney we need business and that was great. And broug ht in Stanley Turrentine a great jazz saxophone player. AH: So these people played at the Siboney? RG: Yes. AH: Okay. RG: We would do two shows. Stanley Turrentine, the original Mr. T. At the time there was a DJ at 102.5 called Shelby Moore who had th e smoothest voice. I have the commercial still recorded. And jazz, real jazz. And Stanley Turrentine, and both shows [were] packed. It was great. You know, 1980 we tried, Ybor City was struggling so we brought in to the caf the Dick Rivers group, and then I went to New Jersey were I hired Street Beat to come in. Like I said, they were a great band. They had a sax player, a congo player named Joe Mang ione He was really talented. I said "G osh I'm going to on this, Mangione. And I did the radio commercials on the Jazz station, jazz, real jazz. I did these teasers, Jazz on Broadway AH: Yes.
21 RG: Because Seventh Avenue [Ybor City] was doing Broadway. I did these small ads, all through the paper, everybody was wondering. And then all of a sudden I said feat uring Joe Mangione AH: Yes. RG: on saxophone. And I never said anything that he was Chuck Mangione's brother and everybody's there "A h Chuck Mangione s brother! And the whole city was buzzing. And we got to the point we're doing two thousand people a weekend AH: Wow. RG: Coming in. It was like Studio 54 and you know, cover charge. MG: With a cover charge. RG: And then, "A re you Chuck Man g ione's brother ?" I says I don't know. And at one woman came and said "T hat's not Cat Man g iones. I said "I never said it was Cat Man g ione. AH: Yes. RG: Well, now I found out about Cat Man gi one. Street Beat was on vacation and I had met Cat Man gi one in Atlanta. He was doing a concert and invited him to come and play for two weeks. MG: And he was Chuck's brother. RG: He was Chuck's brother, Cat Mangione is a great pianist. AH: Okay. RG: I was trying to bring him here to stay full time. AH: Okay. RG: He was from Buffalo, New York, or Rochester. AH: Okay. RG: And he was really, really talented. He was real jazz. MG: And he really was his brother. AH: Yes. You would be interested to know I was just chatting with Bob Kerstein. He's a political science professor over at UT [University of Tampa]. He wrote a book all about
22 growth and poli tics in Tampa, the twentieth century, and I mentioned to him, you know, I was working with you guys. And I mentioned this I don't know even why or how we got on the subject, but the warehouse, and then he was like "I remember that! He's like "T hey had t he best music in town. I used to go there because they had the best Jazz and they couldn't get it anywhere else. RG: Well, the caf became a success, and I realize that I want to be competition. The caf was rocking jazz beat and the guys would go there to meet the girls, all the single girls would come. And it's were they could make a lot of sales. And they'd have two scotches so they would have the courage to go talk to a girl. AH: Yes. RG: But then I'd gone to Orlando to a place called Valentines, w as a jazz club. I had heard about this group called Tapestry And I went there December 30 th I think it was. And I'm talking to the band. I said, "G uys I want to bring you to Tampa. When are you available? And they said "S econd week of February. I said "W ell what do you know, that's when I'm going to have an opening in my club. They said "W hat's the name of your club? I said "T he Warehouse. AH: (laughs) RG: It was a warehouse. AH: Yes. MG: It was. RG: And that gave me all of six weeks to buil d this place. AH: Yes. RG: And I started building it without a permit, without telling my dad. And towards the second day that we started, the cont r act inspector came and we got busted. But then we opened and we got Tapestry which was they complemented one another. So once you found a girl, you took her back there. Instead of having those three to five drinks you had now one drink. And it was where everybody went AH: Yes. RG: to see the best band. And David Filberg, the (inaudible) flute players, still in Tampa and I happened to run into him in an airport line, Columbia and one of the best flute players I've ever seen in my life. AH: Okay. All right so we've
23 RG: I've got to go to the restroom. AH: All right, sure. I'll pause it. RG: You can talk now. MG: (inaudible). AH: Okay. MG: Now I'm learning how to behave. AH: All right. Melanie is going to fill in some gaps for us here. MG: Okay. When we did the Harbour Island thin g, that's when he started this system of the c hiller and he actually created his own chiller to package it wasn't frozen because he doesn't believe in frozen, but he could pump all the soups and all the sauces into these (inaudible) bags AH: Okay. MG: but the chiller we couldn't afford. So my brother, the pool person, made like this baby Jacuzzi, we had to use lots of ice AH: Okay. MG: But we because you have to chill it down to a certain degree and then we could put it in the refrigerator and ma rk the dates of course, and then it would last for months and months. But we could distribute it to try to create a product that was consistent in every restaurant. AH: Okay. MG: That also was his idea. AH: And this chiller came about, you said it was connected with Harbour Island somehow? MG: Yes, because we started Harbour Island, he had this thing. That's when he started going to the market and doing all this. He thought, we really need to create a commissary. AH: Yes, Okay. MG: And that's wh en we go back to the commissary. And vats, we bought these huge vats because at one point his father had a canning business or a frozen food business.
24 AH: Yes. MG: And we had these vat s but they had to be taken out. We had to get new vats. AH: Okay. MG: But you have to ask him, it was we became really good friends with that gentleman from Canada, Toronto, what was his name? Anyway, he'll remember. AH: Okay. MG: But, anyway, as far as Cha Cha Coconuts goes in St. Petersburg too, I believe that there are several people that started [there] are still there, too. And that was at the period of course when we lost a lot of people, because then the Columbia took that's when he created his pyramid structure that, because he knew he had to have management w hich his father never believed in. AH: Yes. MG: Ever, I mean, Richard said, I can not do this alone if we are going to continue to expand. AH: Yes. MG: So Daytona, (inaudible) and that's when the crap hit the fan. AH: Yes. MG: So, okay, yes. And we were the first people in Harbour Island, as far as restaurants and the last ones out. AH: Okay. MG: Yes. That's and that guy, Jay Ostro was a nightmare. AH: Yes. MG: If he ran out of money he wouldn't tell him [Richard]. He would go to Adela and Adela would write him a check or cash in her stocks. So Richard didn't know, and you need to verify that with him, but J ay was doing things, and he would wait until it was too late, so we couldn't even scramble. AH: Yes. MG: And of course that was the beginning of the downfall.
25 AH: Yes. MG: And that's when Dennis (inaudible) came into the picture. AH: Okay. MG: And of course Lee Sanders AH: Yes. MG: our savior. AH: So Jay was left over from Cesar? MG: [makes a sound like she doesn't know] AH: Okay. MG: And Jay you could never even see his desk which is not good for a C.F.O. AH: Yes. MG: Because usually they're meticulous. AH: Got to keep up, yes. MG: But this was a disaster. AH: Okay. MG: I mean a real disaster. That goofy room thing. He never ever goes anywhere to make any kind of a deal, that's how much he didn't believe it was Disney. AH: Oh. MG: He always takes a C.F.O. or his brother, somebody so that there's two sets of ears. AH: Yes. MG: And that he sai d Melanie I felt really goofy. I mean it truly was. I mean for (inaudible) And then yes, Cesar only went to Disney one time. AH: Okay. (inaudible). MG: And Cesar was the kind of guy who go es, "L ook at this, look at these telephones Do you know?" He was in awe of every electronic thing and when we got Disney, it was
26 like drove us crazy because [he said], "Look." He just could not believe the possibilities in the world to come. AH: Yes. MG: As worldly as he was, he was truly kind of childish. A H: Yes. MG: So he was always in awe. AH: Okay. MG: Always, always. I mean it was really cool to see a man like AH: Yes. MG: he always impressed me because I looked at him with such awe. AH: Yes. MG: And then he was like, "How do they do this?" H e was so incredible. AH: (sounds of agreement) MG: He was so incredible. And, oh the 102.5, go back to the concerts. He was always such good friends with the DJ's on the radio AH: Okay. MG: and the radio stations. And so, whenever we did do these things, they were so happy to do it for him. And to this day he can still call and talk to Al Santana and [say], Al i t's my mother in law s birthday. And Al will say, and we're in the car goin g over to eat, Hi I'd like to say happy birthday to Cela Heiney." I mean and my mother's like AHH!! [excitement]. They love him. AH: Yes. MG: Because he is such a good guy. AH: Yes. MG: But this friendship goes way, way, way back. I mean, it was just because of these jazz or just because he bought air time. He was just always and we're still buddies with Al.
27 AH: Yes, well, the whole chorizo, and everything. You know, you make some good memories with people like that and they don't forget. MG: W e remember sitting in Jacuzzis and calling Al Santana [and said], Play Weekend. He could get in trouble for playing stuff that wasn't on the play list. AH: Oh. Okay. Yes. MG: (inaudible) [talking in background] AH: (laughs) MG: He talked about g aps. Okay, good, now I can throw this away. He makes me a wreck. (laughter) God I love him though. [pause on tape] AH: Okay. MG: Well, maybe (inaudible). AH: All right, we're coming now. Okay, so MG: Cesar World. AH: Cesar World. RG: My brother says he never worked with my father, a day with my father as an adult. And I tell him he doesn't know what he missed. Cesar was always difficult and demanding. He was different; he was an artist. But I realized my dad would look at a profit and los s statement, he knew exactly where to look and to question. You know he understood so much. He would tell me, ask me if I've read a certain article in the business section. I said, "No." And he would give me hell. He would tell me also how history was so i mportant from high school on up. Said I needed when I said I didn't like history, he says "T hat's the most important subject you have. And I said "W ell why? He said "B ecause history continues to repeat itself. And I didn't understand that in high school, didn't understand that in college, I didn't understand in my early years.. And I remember going to the restaurant with Melanie, 1974, seventy five , we had gone to see the Cincinnati Red's play the Bosto n Red Sox at the World Series in Boston. And we'd gone to a restaurant in New York called The Sign of the Dove and they had an ad
28 saying History Repeats Itself Beautifully and that just stuck with me. And then I realized that history repeats itself beautif ully or ugly. And that we can learn. And I look back, you know, in the business world what's happened the good and the bad, and you look at the empires, the Roman Empire, nothing's forever. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: It worries me today. I realize I w anted to learn from the mistakes I'd made. And I had a Professor Lou Lada, L A D A, Lada, a couple business classes and there's not a lot I can tell you that I learned in college. Because there's certain things, you learned a lot. But Lou Lada said, he was an executive with Sears and Roebuck, very successful. And this is the quote I remember, "It's okay to make a mistake, as long as you don't make the same mistake twice and you learn that mistake." AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: It means don't be afraid, a nd don't commit the same mistakes. And you learn from the mistakes other people make. I read in the restaurant news, I read these magazines and see these restaurants and the mistakes they're making or that they've made. Look at Victoria Station the mistak es they made in the seventies [1970s]. I looked at even Outback Steakhouse mistakes they're making I said, "T hey're managing scared ." They're saying that they were going, people, wanted to increase their sales and customer account yet they're full. They're adding lunch type items, sandwiches, the same amount of people because you're full and you're loading your average check, which made no sense so now they're making less money. They started saying that they wanted to lower, make smaller portions and this h appened recently that, I can't say this, but they went and they bought all new plates, smaller plates so the portions would look MG: Bigger. RG: bigger. And the customers aren't stupid. AH: Yes. RG: So, instead of a twelve ounce steak it's a ten ounce steak. You look and you learn. And you have to look at the mistakes and you have to think about it. I'll tell people, it's okay to make mistakes, I've made more mistakes then all of you combined. I make them but you have to learn. MG: But your dad always said Side A ends; Side B begins MG: if you don't take a chance.
29 RG: You have to take a chance. But you have to think about it. My dad always said you know you can forget about all these experts and stuff. And whenever I've made a decision that I didn't feel good about in my gut it was the wrong decision. Forget what the paperwork said, forget what the experts said. It was the wrong decision. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: And I've made those de cisions against what I felt was my better judgment. Just like I felt Celebration was the right decision. I've made those that weren't the right, and they were wrong. So you learn that. And the other thing I learned my very first class my freshman year, Int roduction to Hospitality, the Dean of the hospitality school, Dr. Kiester, Douglas Kiester, I don't know how we got him for that class. The very first day he tells us, "Number one," he says, "N ever let your customers buy you a drink because if you do you' ll become an alcoholic. And he also said "N ever stop to calculate how many hours a week you work because first of a ll you're in the wrong industry AH: Yes. RG: and number two you're going to think you're being underpaid and you're not happy. It me ans we're not happy. And so from that day on people ask me how many hours a week I work I say "A s many hours as it takes to make it happen. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: I remember one day, there was one day I worked over twenty five, twenty six hou rs in a day. You know it was exciting. It was the night parade, the dishwashing machine broke down, and George and I stayed up all night there. It was exciting; the adrenaline got me going. But when I hear my children saying I said, "Do something else. You 're not happy." I've never once stopped to [count] hours worked in a week. And that was important. And then the other thing learning was in an exam what's a B.C.G.? B.C.G. God, what the hell's a B.C.G. I struggled with that damn question. What's a B.C.G., B.C.G.? Well we had gone to the Budweiser Distributorship for a class. And what that means is a Beer Clean Glass. I'll never forget that. Because to have a proper beer, it has to be cleaned properly, a certain type of soap, no film, no grease or else the head goes down. AH: Yes. RG: And I thought I remember that. It's just something I'll never forget. That I don't forget. Certain things just, you know, I realize through life, you know, when I got out of school so much didn't, you couldn't put in effect i nto the Columbia Restaurant. Because the Columbia Restaurant was its own monster. And you couldn't change it. It took awhile. And what they teach you in books is not necessarily the real world. But those things I learned. I learned that you had to be the b est you could be. And the best lessons I learned were at the age of three and a half, my grandfather showed me fresh fish, when I saw him throw away sixty gallons of bean soup at four years old explaining to me why he
30 did that. And that it's only as good a s your last meal. Those are the lessons I have. And as management that [I] also learned that honesty and were everything I say is very honest. My dad lived in Cesar's World and Jack Barrs was our attorney. And they would laugh. He's in Cesar's World, wher e Cesar built a two million dollar house on Davis Island, had it in my name, and he was the caretaker so he's writing off the whole envelope. And Cesar would give out numbers where he wished he was in sales. And that 1973 the Columbia restaurant doing at seven and a half million dollars in sales, put us in the top ten. And everybody is, "A hh man it's great ." He threw all these numbers out there. AH: Yes. RG: And you know what was great? Nothing. The IRS came and checked us. AH: Yes. MG: They should. RG: Now we weren't doing that. AH: Yes. RG: But they said, "Well, you said this." AH: You said that, yes. MG: Where are you hiding it? AH: Yes. RG: And so then we were buying shrimp from Singleton S hips for cash. And they were hiding that money, and they gave us a paper slip and now all that cash we gave they thought we were stealing it and that we had to pay taxes. So, we were doing everything right, but now we were paying for the sins AH: Yes. RG: Except we were doing things wrong by paying cash to the shrimp and other things. And they found out that Cesar World, you're into low salary and the company pays all your expenses. AH: Yes. RG: And that doesn't happen. AH: (sounds of agreement)
31 RG: But you know Cesar World had to change. And we laugh about it and Cesar World was great but MG: That was the old days. RG: It had to change. So we changed that and sometimes people, I tell people "H ey I live in Cesar W orld. MG: Yes, Cesar Island. RG: Because you can have, because you can dream [Richard and Melanie talking]. You dream Cesar dreams. And all I can think of is that my dad today would be so proud to see the sales in the Columbia and where we are and that realizing the potential. My dad, you know, he would provide numbers and a CPA (inaudible) would provide whatever numbers Cesar wanted and nobody ever believed the numbers. None of the bankers believed it really but it was different world, hand shake. And my dads always said, you know, "F orget the contract; your handshake is the most important thing, your word. Always repaid every debt he ever owed. He never stood anybody up. AH: Yes. RG: But what I learned though through Lee Sanders when he turned the company around was honesty, sometimes it would have to be brutal honesty, b ecause things aren't always great. If you're always saying things are great, and they find out they're not, well, then your credibility is gone. AH: Yes. RG: But I believe in just brutal honesty in my family and business world and tell people the way it is or how I feel. Sometimes [it is] a little rough. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: I know it's rough. MG: But you're a liar if you say it's always great. AH: Yes. RG: But its, you know, if you have a down turn then I can go to my bankers and wher e nobody wanted us after my dad died and (inaudible) when he was alive. And now when I have bankers calling me wanting to give me an unsecured line of credit I sit there, I look up to the sky and I said "D ad do you hear that? AH: Yes.
32 MG: (inaudible). RG: And when I have these banks calling me, they want my business and one bank they called me, they wanted my business. I said, "Y ou know, you had the opportunity three years ago and I went there and I was politely showed the door within seconds. You kn ow, hey, everybody wants a winner, but you want to be with somebody that's there in the tough times. So I look at my dad, but I realize that honesty is the best thing. I try and tell my kids that. Sometimes you feel like you want to hide the truth, but you have to be truthful and sometimes it's not what people want to hear. MG: But those were the old days. Everything was there were certain things we were not, I was not supposed to know or not supposed to talk about. RG: My brother doesn't communicate with his kid or his wife, his wife who's divorcing now, he hasn't told her stuff and she thinks he's sneaky. She's found out stuff. So, if you're not honest well, they're never going to believe the truth. MG: She thinks she o wns parts of Cha Cha's (inaudible) RG: When they got married, she didn't know he doesn't own Cha Cha Coconuts. AH: No. RG: And his kids didn't until that meeting that we had, and I told them that. AH : When he had to sell the stock in that right from his other marriage ? RG: He had to sell the stock, because of his divorce. And I told him now with his attorneys, I said "Y ou better tell his wife that for her benefit of her children she better take it easy. AH: Yes. RG: Because he may have to sell this. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: And maybe MG: She was just selling her wild oats. RG: The thing is, but I think like, hey with my kids when things were bad I tried to let them know, I mean, they were old enough to understand. And you don't want to make them insecure
33 MG: You were always honest. RG: but you have to let people know. Whatever it is. I just hate people that lie. My dad would be one that would tell stories. And I think he got to the point where he believes the stories. AH: Yes, yes. MG: (laughs) Well, Adela alw ays said RG: Cesar World. MG: I wish he would tell me what he was going to say so I could say the same thing when they ask me, I mean RG: It's like John Lawless. AH: Yes, yes. RG: That's it. And I'm going two hundred miles an hour in this Jeep. A H: Yes. RG: But it's I realize I wanted people to believe me. MG: I know whatever he says, I say the same thing. I mean if people do question, it's like attack. RG: When you tell the truth, there's no mistakes. AH: Yes. RG: A bad liar is in trouble, because there are different stories. AH: Yes. RG: So my information is accurate. So my dad Cesar World was great for me. But there was time, we'd opened the Pier, I can't remember what happened, I got really, really upset with him. And I actually quit. I didn't work for two weeks and wouldn't even talk to him. And he wasn't talking to me and my mother was it was very difficult. I was just proud. My dad, I respected my dad, he was the leader, but it was something that it was stupid. I can't remember now. AH: Okay.
34 RG: But I wouldn't even talk to him. And MG: But the bigger picture was he had to make a stand. I mean RG: I had to be a man. I couldn't let him just run over me. AH: Yes. Okay. RG: I had to make a stand to know what I was going to do othe rwise but AH: (laughs) MG: Even if it was defending me or he had to say, "I've got to make a choice." AH: Yes. MG: And I mean in Cesar world the thing with him, is Cesar truly, truly believed every bit of it. AH: Yes. RG: But MG: And he was a dreamer. If he hadn't of dreamed, Andy, where would we be? RG: He was a Don Quixote. AH: Yes, oh absolutely. RG: He was a twentieth century Don Quixote. But I looked at but this what you had to do. I said hey but my dad I w a nt to try and fulfill his dr eams, thirty restaurants. That's where I got into Moe's, Mama Food's and I realized it was the wrong thing. I wasn't being a I was supposed to be a silent investor, and I can't be silent about anything. I've very opinionated. AH: Yes. MG: He's too loud. AH: Yes. RG: It was a reputation. I did my job helped some people work with me get off. But I realized that thirty restaurants is not It's a number. AH: It's an arbitrary number.
35 RG: Number 30 was my running back number. It's my favorite number. So it's a good number. I realized I now know, you know, what I've done, didn't do the thirty restaurants, but I've achieved as a company the sales my dad wished could have achieved and more. AH: Yes. RG: So, that we've done. I've talked to my kids today an d I said, "We have family needs, between my brother's kids, my kids, and us." And I said, "I need to have meetings with my kids alone and look at opportunities." And the Columbia Restaurant is very special. And yes, we have to grow, but do we have to grow to other Columbia's outside because it's not necessarily understood at other places. AH: Yes. RG: We have opportunity to grow in Tampa, like some other successful restaurateurs have done different concepts. We're looking at the History Museum doing Caf Columbia or Saloon Columbia, whatever it might be, Cha Cha Coconuts on the river, a family style simple time restaurant based on the Sicilians that came here, and based on a restaurant in Tampa, downtown called Vesuvius on [John F. ] Kennedy [Boulevard] it was on Kennedy based on a pizza parlor on Dale Mabry [Highway]. We're thinking of naming it after a coach of Jesuit [High School], named Dominick Sia, calling it Dominick's. But baked with fresh tomatoes, going to the market buying the tomatoes and cooking it down all night long. Roma tomatoes. And doing it with the carrots the way Sicilians did. I said, "H ey it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Independent restaurants don't exist because they don't want to stand up and invest in the training. AH: (sounds of agreement) MG: (inaudible). RG: It bothers me. And the chains are okay but I want to do something MG: There's not good pizza. RG: I want to do something you go to Boston and you got Regina's Pizza, been there eighty years. And you go to New York and you get some good pizzas. All we have are chains here. I think pizza is a great compl ete meal. I think thin crust is great. It's low carbs, low fat. I was going to do a cookbook, the GS and P Girl Scout cookies and pizza. Because I think you ought to eat everything MG: Diet. RG: but pizza once a week. MG: Now watching your fat.
36 AH: Yes. RG: But so I look and said, Do we have to go outside when it takes the travels." You separate yourself where you can keep your force here and hire the best people. I tell my kids I'm an entrepreneur, I know my limitations. I am not a great manager. I understand my deficiencies of being ADHD ; deficie nc i es limitations, ADHD, dyslexia, can't concentrate. But I also know I think different than everybody else." AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: That's my strength and I'm proud of it. And I preach that. I'm getting involved with a school, I'm getting involved with a school I didn't know existed. They wrote me a letter wanting to give for the donation that for ADHD kids. This little boy went to school with our grandchildren. And the letter said "Can you imagine being [made to] feeling stupid because you can't read? And I never call anybody that requests I said I have to call you, I talked to the woman. I said, I want to learn more about this school. Because those kids have to feel confident and not be made to feel stupid like I was down throughout the years and you suffer, don't know what the problem is but you have a gift. And you learn to make that your gift. If you're blind you learn to use your other senses. And now so what I realized that hey I like being able to focus on longevity and managers, that's why you hire the best people. And my dad maybe didn't want to hire great, smart people because he wanted to feel smart. AH: Yes. RG: He was ADHD also. MG : He didn't trust anyone. RG: The thing is hire the best people. Make them your partners. So with that being said, if you have a group of different restaurants around here, it doesn't have to be the Columbia, by not going outside, Cha Cha Coconuts proved to be successful. We made mistakes with that as well. I let control go away from me. But if you you can't be afraid to venture outside if you believe you know what you're doing what the people want. I believe I know what the people want. So what's the next phase is to expand beyond the Colu mbia within the Tampa market. Don't want to be Outback Steakhouse, we'll never be. AH: (sounds of agreement) Yes. RG: I look at the Smith (inaudible) restaurant, they average over eight million dollars a restaurant and they make no money. MG: Well, that 's no fun.
37 RG: They make no money. I forget how big their sales are, I think they have nineteen units. And they're being hostile bid by Landry's group because they're doing the sales, opening these restaurants; well what's that make sense? My dad believed once opened, well you do more volume well if you don't have control you're just going to lose more money. AH: (sounds of agreement) MG: (inaudible). RG: So, but that's the difference now that I have, that I've learned I said with my kids, "Do we grow a s the Richard family side, as other concepts like I was going to do with Moe's and Mama Food's?" Possibly, the Columbia stays within that, but you know why expand and I saw both my daughters, especially my daughter Lauren and her husband paid attention. MG: This morning was probably one of the best family meetings, family, just us, family meeting they just happened. I mean, we all just happened to all be together and it just started and the participation was beautiful and they all had their two cents. An d he asked my son in law's opinion, my son in law Chris is extremely bright AH: Yes. MG: and he questioned Richard and threw stuff out at Richard. But this is I mean that's what it's about. This is the man [who is] not afraid. AH: Yes. RG: But then you look at other family, you have to look and see hey. I wanted to keep on my desire for the G oody G oody [Tampa restaurant] chain the number of the owner. AH: Oh yes. RG: Now why do I say that ? I took my brother and Curt and they both were not they w anted to take passes. MG: My son in law was not impressed. RG: But they're looking at the place because it was run down AH: Yes. RG: Time had passed them by in the fifties [1950s] AH: Sure.
38 RG: They did not change. They still served the same wrin kled cut french fry. AH: Yes. RG: Same thing with the Columbia, it was all canned vegetables. AH: Yes. RG: And nobody could understand this but when I say Goody G oody is a great name, 1927 original drive in, do the hamburger AH: Twenty five . RG: Yes, yes, twenty five. AH: Yes. RG: We go back and you do this, the original and I got the name of that guy. And when they were closing I didn't realize this guy was the owner and he was there MG: He thought it was an old lady. RG: I thought it was the old lady. AH: Oh yes, no. MG: That worked there. RG: And I gave him I said, "Hey, my name, I'd love to buy." He said, "O h yeah, yeah we'll have to teach you how to cook first. I said I really am serious. He never called me. Never called me. But a month later or so I think his daughter was indicted for murdering her husband. AH: Oh my god. RG: He husband was in Iraq. She went to school with my daughter. Her husband was forty years old, came back from Iraq, she had a black b oyfriend, lover, killed him. And now here he sells his property hoping to take it easy, now he's going to have to (inaudible). MG: He's got to pay for his defense. RG: So I had a problem in trying to contact him. And my thought AH: I know that guy. I c an't remember the name, Mike, was it Mike?
39 RG: Mike W. Was it W? AH: Wheeler. Wheeler, yes. RG : Wheeler I've got his number. I looked it up, I had someone look it up two weeks ago. AH: Okay. RG: But I said, "You know there ain't what's he going to sell? He has nothing to sell. AH: No. RG: Nothing to sell. I want to approach and say, "H ey I would like to develop this. I think there is no place to get great breakfast. MG: Right. RG: First Watch, the chain's a junk. AH: I agree. RG: First Watch is kind of too healthy But you know, I would do breakfast. I would do organic eggs. I would do great home fries. I would do organic milk. MG: Where can you have a breakfast made? RG: I would do with great hand dipped milkshakes great quality. AH: Yes RG: The great pies. They were using still all the butterscotch, all the stuff out of the can. And (inaudible). It was acceptable in the forties [1940s] and fifties [1950s]. AH: Yes. MG: Like the canned green beans. RG: And the late sixties [1960s] and seventies [1970s] it wasn't. So why did our sales go down? Well you didn't change. AH: See you're really on to something with both those things. There was no place in town to get a really good breakfast for you know RG: Or a really good hamburger.
40 AH: Yes, I mean there was (inaudible). RG: Even the Five Guys burgers and fries. AH: Yes, yes. RG: I read about them in Virginia. I had first went to (inaudible) it was very good. I went last year with her it had gone down. MG: (inaudible). AH: Really? RG: The potatoes weren't as crispy. AH: Yes. RG: But they do a good burger AH: I noticed they weren't that crispy. RG: They are fresh fries but the first week was really good and I'd read about them. I was interested. But, great breakfast and there's money to be made with breakfast. AH: Yes. RG: And great, great hamburger. This is the United States. AH: Yes. RG: I love a great hamburger. AH: Yes absolutely. RG: So I mean you do it. And kind of with the Steak and Shake deal, I think in Tampa you can do that, you can grow that. So this is a concept I think AH: Yes. RG: because I get this guy Wheeler and said, "I'm not going to pay him anything." I said, I'll give you a percentage of the sales. AH: Yes. MG: But I'm a big
41 RG: Two p ercent of the sales. MG: I'm a big believer RG: That now if he thinks that, if he believes in me, that's a lot of money. AH: Yes, so that concept would fly. I mean that was beloved to so many people and many generations of people went there just like the Columbia but you know RG: But the name is, it's authentic. AH: It is. RG: You back through the history. MG : Almost every Saturday I went there RG: Goody, Goody. It started in Michigan and in Tampa. AH: Well, did you know there was a song? It came from some kind of a song. And I was there two days before it closed, I was there with my video camera and asking customers, you know, you want to say goodbye to Goody Goody's, say something to the camera. And these two women arm and arm sang the verse to this song and its like, "Cause I'm goody goody, you rascal, you" or something I think. It was a song about turning down this guy. RG: The had one, I think it was in Michigan or around somewhere up north they had another one. AH: Yes. RG: The first started, started with an S. Sayer, Sayer AH: Yes. RG: Sayer AH: Yes. RG: And so I think, I like the name Goody Goody. People are in to the nostalgia. All you have to do is look at the Chevrolet and the Dodge cars, those old like trucks; I don't remem ber what they call them, the old panel trucks MG: (inaudible).
42 RG: Well people are in to nostalgia and so you go in there. I think it has great potential. But with a new twist. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: Same sauce. Pox, p o x, pickles, onions, and AH: Yes. RG: Extra sauce, I don't know MG: With a c or a k. AH: Yes. AH: Plenty of sauce, yes. MG: But I want to go back to the story guy hamburger place (inaudible) is his father always said th e (inaudible) fattens the horse. We went in there the other night there was nobody in charge. This place was like RG: That's what happens with MG: it was like there was no RG: That's what happens with all these chains. You have to incentivize the p eople. AH: Yes. RG: That's what happened with Moe's, Mama Food's when I went in there. MG: Exactly. RG: The Moe's on Neptune [Avenue], I raised hell one day. MG: I went in to pick up Scott and I go, "W elcome to Moe's ." Nobody's telling me, Welcome to Moe's. AH: Yes. RG: The back door was open. But that's the thing. I look at, but you know. MG: And then they got mad because I told them that. RG: My grandfather was innovative in looking, my dad was, and maybe I was in bringing in the entertainmen t to the Pier
43 MG: Maybe. AH: Oh yes, yes. RG: to the Columbia, to the Cha Cha's, and to the caf and different ideas. And I look we always kid and my brother told my grandfather in the fifties [1950s] that he didn't hire a good cook like the one at Go ody Goody. AH: Yes. RG: So then it's just part of America. AH: It really is. It's part of Tampa. RG: And you tell the story. So I mean that's something that in the back of my mind. I talked to, there was a guy one time I thinking about it. And this guy was an executive with McDonald's out in California, divisional manager. And Bob, Bob, Bob (inaudible) He is with Popeye's Chicken now, in charge of operations, I stay in touch. He has a home in Sarasota. He told me, called me, e mail about six months ago. His wife's been diagnosed with cancer. You know, he understands. I took him to Goody Goody with me. He understood it, "M an this is great! AH: Yes. RG: Forget what you see. AH: Yes, yes. AH: Those little desks and everything RG: Forget what you see. AH: Yes. RG: Think of what the potential is on that. MG: The hell with the trend, since I was a little girl. AH: Yes. MG: (inaudible). AH: Yes, they got those desks in the thirties and they stayed there. And that furniture that made so much noise, t hat stainless steel, you know, I don't know, it was aluminum or stainless steel
44 RG: Aluminum. Aluminum. AH: Yes, and it was just (makes noise). RG: I think that was done later. AH: That was later, yes. That was in the fifties I think. RG: And they us ed to have a lot more of those little desks. MG: But when you'd go on Saturdays every one of those slots was full and they'd come out and put that thing on AH: Yes. RG: One thing you could go there and get was a and Sonic [drive in restaurant] was trying to copy that and Sonic has just lost it. AH: Yes. RG: Not quality. AH: I've never been impressed. RG: But you got in the guy's Five Guys Burgers and Fry's what t hey say that Starbucks has set the tone showing that people will pay more money for quality product. But you know, who would think they'd be paying 3.95 for coffee. AH: Yes. MG: And there's a line. RG: So they're charging more. I went to Starbucks the other day. I left. There was too many people. MG: Lauren and Chris went today, there was a line. RG: But they said people will show up and pay more money for quality. McDonalds lost sight of what made McDonalds great which was a great fresh burger. AH: Yes. RG: And what they serve usually is just not that. AH: No.
45 MG: But it's consistent. RG: You know sometimes (inaudible). AH: It's visibly bad. RG: They keep adding this and that. AH: Yes. RG: You just get a bun that's not crushed and just be consistent. AH: Yes. RG: But you know, a fresh burger to me it's a matter of just like with the Columbia. Fresh product Don't take shortcuts. So, where do I see us going? Well, going outside of the Columbia. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: And respectin g the Columbia and the history. The Columbia has got to be special. If we open them up everywhere it loses that specialty. MG: It needs its own animal. It's a difficult animal. It's a precise animal. AH: Oh, absolutely. MG: It's very intense, I mean, it 's not like opening any other restaurant. This is AH: Well, what I like about it is the fact that the Columbia, the whole concept and everything has really grown into Florida, and it's almost synonymous with Florida. And that I remember you mentioning th at Casey wanted to expand maybe into Georgia and that probably would be a mistake. RG: Well, see AH: Because so much of the Columbia's identity is here. RG: I liked Atlanta because we had such a following there. The amount of people that know us from Atlanta, it's an hour flight AH: Yes. RG: Whereas it's a mistake going to West Palm Beach where they don't know you.
46 AH: Yes. RG: Those are people from the Midwest. MG: They all moved here. RG: They're Midwest. They don't know the Columbia or fo und out. AH: Yes. RG: And they don't understand who we are. MG: Who are they? (talking at once) RG: But they were strange, they don't get it. And even the developers, you know our product is great, the food is great, nothing could go wrong but they don 't understand it there. Where Atlanta could be mistake. Atlanta kills a lot of restaurants but Atlanta we have a my dad went to go there back in the early, early seventies [1970s]. He went there to see Underground Atlanta. And that would've been a mistake, we would've died. In Atlanta I just look at how many people know us. AH: Yes. RG: Well it's better that they fly an hour down here. If you can fly there in one hour versus going to Naples which is similar to what West Palm is AH: Yes. MG: Or St. Augustine. RG: That's a three hour drive and those people are into the frou frou stuff. And we're not frou frou. AH: Exactly. Yes. MG: But you can every area of Florida is so different. Imagine going to another state. RG: Games tied [watching televisi on?] MG: I mean, Palm Beach, I'll never forget I am hanging pictures AH: Oh wow it's tied again. It was just twenty twenty eight a few minutes ago. RG: He's, I think kicked four field goals. AH: Wow.
47 RG: I didn't know AH: It's going to be one hell of a last five minutes. MG: All I know is this woman came in her little St. John's suit, and said, "W e've never heard of the Columbia. And of course, I was appalled. AH: Yes. MG: I mean AH: Where was this? MG: Palm Beach. AH: Okay yes. MG: But I mean and then I realized RG: It's a different crowd. AH: Yes. RG: You know Long Boat Key is very wealthy, but it's from a different area. AH: Yes. RG: When we close in Long Boat now in July for renovations or structural repair to the building, the bu sinesses all there went down. AH: Interesting. RG: And the paper did an article saying how after the Columbia closed how their business went down and that when we opened how their business went up. They realized the portion of the Columbia, the draw it had. MG: Lauren and I walked the circle while we were closed. AH: Okay. MG: And they all said "P lease when are you going to open? Our business is really down. And now we walked it like last week and they went, "T hank god you reopened! AH: Yes.
48 MG: I mean to me it was a thank you so much. I said, "Needless to say we're ver y happy we opened to." But they were like "Y ou just don't know. AH: Wow, that is really impressive. MG: That makes me feel (inaudible). AH: Well, the Columbia itself being a magnet, and all these other businesses feeding off of that, I mean, that's amazing. MG: Yes. Well we are special. AH: Yes. RG: It makes us understand the AH: No, no that's safe to say. RG: I kept telling my kids that's you know a serious responsib ility to people, the families that depend on us to perform everyday. AH: (sounds of agreement) RG: And even like in the case of Sarasota, there's other businesses that depend on us as being part of the team AH: Yes. RG: to make it a draw. AH: Oh, yes. MG: The best part, Andy, is when we go in and these people look at us and they and I of course talk to everybody, I talk to everybody anyway but I mean they are just, they're like "T hank you Melanie." I mean they're just so, I don't even know AH: Yes. MG: most of these employees, but they are all so kind and sweet. That comes from the fact that he is a good employer. I mean we're married, he's compassion, he cares. So AH: And he put air conditioning into the kitchen. MG: That is beautiful. A H: That makes a lot of people happy.
49 RG: We wouldn't allow a lot of cooks from Ybor City to work in other Columbia's because many of them had air. AH: Oh yes. MG: And then they'd get spoiled. RG: Even in Sarasota restaurant now during the renovations that we had planned we built a brand new kitchen, we changed the whole lay out. And we took this opportunity to redo everything. And ripped out everything, changed the whole layout in the kitchen MG: It used to run horizontally, now it runs vertically. AH: Okay. RG: And now we had some air conditioning, it's not the restaurant but we made that, we patterned that kitchen after what we learned in Ybor City. AH: Okay. MG: (inaudible) AH: Yes. RG: And even going to the point to buying a piece of equipment that they use in England called a Merryc hef that modern equipment that we have some appetizers that take fifteen minutes and even some desserts and the staff would not try to sell it it took too long. AH: Oh. RG: We have a (inaudible) take fif teen minutes. This oven will cook it in a minute and forty seconds. AH: Wow. MG: Merryc hef AH: Is it one of those convection microwave things? RG: It's a combination of microwave and convection. AH: Yes.
50 RG: I hate microwaves. We were the first rest aurant to ever have a microwave in Tampa. We were the first one to throw it out too. AH: (laughs) RG: But this has you can put metal in there. AH: Yes. Yes, I've heard about this. RG: You can put metal in there. And the thing is amazing. We went there; it's an eight thousand dollar piece of equipment. We tested it there. We were so impressed AH: Yes. RG: We can't live without it. We're going to put them in every other restaurant. AH: Yes. RG: We are going to put two. AH: Yes. RG: We're getting r id of a grill. We could do our bread pudding, go ahead. MG: What I am going to say is, is the day we were testing food, we were there, I was hanging pictures and we got this Merryc hef and I had never heard of such a thing. And Andrea told me she wanted on e for her house. Of course, it's like eight thousand dollars AH: Yes. MG: But it really reminds you of when like color TV's came out or microwaves, they were so huge. AH: Yes. MG: And this thing only got an entry way this big, I mean RG: I remember the day we went to test it. There was a company called Enotis and it has all this different equipment. They bought it. And this gentleman was a C.E.O. some years ago, and I guess, wanted to live here and have a beach house. He built their test quarters in Oldsmar. We went there; my brother, Curt, and our chef and a couple of other people. My brother, for whatever reason they wanted to pay attention to this piece of equipment, didn't look at it, wouldn't look at it. And then he kept on saying, "Well I don't think that's any good. I said Okay so what you were talking about was this o ther piece of equipment we used" He had a negative attitude. And he started asking questions after it
51 was all done. He came back, don't know. But I kept on pressing him, "Y ou' ve got to try this, this solves this problem, appetizers have to come out fast, a few minutes. AH: Yes. MG: But it's like a dried up dishwasher, too, okay. RG: But it worked. AH: Yes. RG: It worked. AH: Yes. MG: And now, Curt the day we were eating, Curt goes, "Look, Richard, we cannot cook everything." He goes "T ry this dish in there. I mean he's driving Curt crazy. RG: We can even do the churos in there. So then instead of frying them again, I'm trying to take any of the desserts, appetizers out of the line. AH: Yes. RG: Because they are a different pace. They know they have twelve minutes. Appetizers have got to go out fast. AH: Yes. RG: And the Alcachofas MG: (inaudible). RG: This artichoke dip that we have that took fifteen minutes, now it's a minute forty. AH: Yes. RG: All these items bang, bang, bang. So what do you do, you can get it out faster, make the guest happier and maybe turn over faster so MG: Oh, it's a great piece of equipment. RG: (coughs) AH: Well I've heard Starbucks; they want to start doing breakfast RG: They're competing with McDonalds.
52 AH: Yes, the (inaudible). RG: They are doing breakfast sandwich. AH: Yes, and I yes, I guess it was New York Times or RG: Well there is a actually I'll send us this place you can sign up to, Nations Restaurant News on a daily basis I get everything a capsule everything's happening in the restaurant industry. AH: Wow. RG: So you see what you want to read. And AH: Ces ar would've liked that. MG: (laughs) RG: I mean I know what is going on everyday. AH: Yes, yes. RG: Somebody else might come MG: It's discussed. RG: But you can then see the three articles that were written on that maybe in the town where the thing came out. You can find out everything that is happening. I'll send that to you. AH: Yes, no, I'd love that. I'd love that. RG: It's easy. I mean, sometimes I don't want to look at it, I say, "S hoot takes me five seconds. AH: Yes. RG: I scroll down loo k at the headlines. AH: Yes. RG: And there is so much that you can learn. AH: Yes.
53 MG: And that's one thing, Richard has always stayed up to date with his RG: What's going on in the industry. AH: Yes. MG: Yes, yes. All of his paperwork, all of the AH: I think that's great. MG: Yes, any magazine or anything that has to do with restaurants he and he's not a reader but he does do that. AH: Well it's nice to compact a synopses there. But I really love the New York Times Their food section because they keep track of the industry and you know MG: See we don't do that. AH: All kinds of stuff like that. I think it's pretty well done. RG: Thirty four to thirty one [referring to the football game] MG: Well I mean I love Nation's Restaurant News I mean, there's so many and he doesn't always bring them home RG: I can't read all the magazines but Nation's Restaurant News is the one magazine tells you When I go on trips I'll take my magazine. There's some of the magazines are going to hell. AH: Y es. RG: But you know MG: Like every magazine in the world. RG: I don't read it all, but if I check them I can learn. But this daily blitz from Nation's Restaurant News is worth reading. AH: Okay. Yes that sounds great. RG: Tells you what McDonalds i s doing. Tells you everything. AH: Yes. RG: It shows you the Moe's, it shows you I said it to Mel, Moe's is doing stuff just to grow.
54 AH: Okay. RG: Franchises. AH: Yes, they're MG: I'm glad we got out when we did. AH: Okay, yes, good. MG: Because now they are going to barbecue. AH: Really? RG: They've got seven concepts. (inaudible) has like seven concepts. They have Shanes, Boneheads, PJ's Coffee MG: The Green thing. RG: Duck Greens They've got all this shit. AH: Yes. RG: And they' re just doing concepts. MG: They just throw them out. AH: Yes. RG: And not really AH: Instead of finding just one really good concept RG: But they're selling franchises and hope to keep on without doing their job to make sure the systems in place. AH: (sounds of agreement) MG: A barbecue RG: Well they opened the barbecue (inaudible), they start selling people something that they haven't really proved. AH: Yes.
55 RG: Sales start out great but if they don't follow it and they thought these guys had to do it. I've seen the sales drop down. It's supposed to be a higher volume prices like Moe's, as much as Moe's. AH: Yes. RG: And right now the seven, eight restaurants; they have lowest volume. AH: Okay. MG: But their cost is more? RG: Their food c ost is more. MG: So there food cost is more so AH: Okay yes. MG: We are done. AH: Interesting. Yes. All right, cool. Well this was a productive evening. MG: (whispering to Andy) Cha Cha Coconuts, so now he's looking for conflict of interest. AH: Oh. MG: So therefore, I mean how much time are they spending on Cha Cha's and how much time are they giving to the accounting work. AH: That's true. MG: Oh no, no, no so we are going to have to have a sit down talk to with them. AH: On Tuesday? MG: I don't know. I'm not there. I just know the scoop. AH: All right, well at least it will be after Dennis. MG: I know, right. Yes, I'll tell him. AH: Yes, yes I'm talking to him tomorrow so MG: Okay no, it won't be tomorrow, it won't be tomorrow.
56 AH: Okay, yes. MG: No, no, but Dennis has to understand, what priority is. But how much are they paying him to do your accounting? AH: Oh sure. MG: Compared to what we're paying him. AH: Yes. end of interview
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n Part 3
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Andrew Huse.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (82 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Columbia Restaurant oral history project
Interview conducted January 21, 2007.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Richard Gonzmart discusses the expansion of the restaurant into various locations around Florida, his father's business acumen, and the reorientation of the business during the crisis following his father's death. He describes the creation of the Cha Cha Coconuts concept, entertainment offerings at the St. Petersburg and Ybor City locations, and his first ventures involving the Caf and Warehouse night clubs. Mr. Gonzmart also comments on the development of a central commissary for the company, possible future business plans, and the importance of preserving the Columbia's identity; .
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