It hardly seems like it, but it was 10 years ago that I sat down with Columbia Business Group CEO/President Richard Gonzmart in his unpretentious Ybor office to talk about the iconic restaurant’s upcoming centennial celebration. The one where, among other things, the Columbia would donate $1 million–or $100,000 per decade–to local charities, half of which would go to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.
“We’re thankful we’re here,” he said.
I glanced down at the CBG business card he had just proffered. It didn’t say: “Richard Gonzmart, CEO/President.” It said: “Richard Gonzmart: Fourth Generation.”
“When I was younger, titles were important,” he explained. “But what is really important is my duty to prepare the next generation to succeed.”
That card spoke volumes about the Tampa restaurateur with five grandchildren.
For the Columbia patriarch, 62, it has always been about preserving history–from the 1905 salad to flamenco dancers–as well as preparing for the future. It’s about an ongoing transition to the next generation, about business upgrades and expansion plans, and about the city where he grew up and went to high school (Jesuit). Call it big-picture aptitude or enlightened self-interest–or Columbia DNA.
That interview came cascading back as I reflected on the recent announcement that Gonzmart, who notably bought the Goody Goody restaurant brand name (plus recipes, signage and furniture) last year, is now acting on it. He plans on resurrecting the venerable burger joint, which opened in 1925, later this year. It will be reincarnated in Hyde Park Village on the same Swann Avenue block as Cine Bistro.
Gonzmart has his reasons. He was a patron as a kid and nobody doesn’t like homemade ice cream and butterscotch pies. He’s also enamored of the new digs. “Old Hyde Park reflects what was good about Tampa when I was growing up,” he recalls.
But the “Fourth Generation” CEO/President of the Columbia Business Group is still a bottom-line sort. And if past and recent history is prologue, expect a success.
Recall how Gonzmart’s Ulele Restaurant, the coolly repurposed, historic pump house has done. It’s a lot more than a popular dining venue on the waterfront. It’s also the ecological hub of Water Works Park and a key catalytic element in the revitalization of once down-on-its luck Tampa Heights. He’s a major redevelopment player.
The rebirth of Goody Goody comes at a propitious time for Hyde Park Village.
Before Boston-based WS Development took it over in 2013, it had been struggling for business and a viable identity as an open air mall. The Great Recession had razed residential plans and imposed a shuttered ambience on too many storefronts.
Now with an ownership change and an improved economy, Hyde Park Village has signed high-end retailer J. McLaughlin as well as restaurant tenants such as (national chain) Bartaco, where the old Cactus Club once thrived, and locally-owned On Swann, which will occupy the Wells Fargo space. Longer-range plans include a 2-story retail row along Snow Avenue.
With Gonzmart bringing in Goody Goody, however, it does more than fill unsightly empty space and infuse a feel-good nostalgic element. His investment adds a major vote of confidence.
Gonzmart is somebody who knows the neighborhood, knows the market, and knows what synergies likely loom for a successful Village. He’s already seeing it play out among Ulele, the Riverwalk and The Heights scenarios.
“With the development of downtown, I’m envisioning that they’ll bring the trolley up there and do a complete loop,” says Gonzmart. “It’s like Tampa’s growing up and taking a step back in time.”
What else is growing is Gonzmart’s extended family.