This historic restaurant chain started in Tampa's Ybor city as a Cuban cafe. It sold Cuban coffee along with Cuban sandwiches. It was a successful business, but during prohibition it had to change its function to less of a cafe that served drinks and had cigars to more of a respectable restaurant. In 1919 the cafe merged with the restaurant next door and opened a larger eatery called Columbia. The owner at the time, Casimiro jr, had a vision not just to avoid prohibition backlash, but to turn the restaurant to a high-end elegant place for the surrounding community to eat and listen to beautiful music. The restaurant survived the great depression by building the very first air-conditioned dining room in 1935. It was an immense risk, but it ended paying off. In the 1956 the restaurant started hiring Latin musical talent to perform in their new Siboney show room. This started a tradition of live performances that still continues today. The Columbia did not expand to St Augustine until 1983, but became a sensation almost instantly. Through these many years the Columbia continued to be to be run by the same family. Today it is run by Richard Gonzmart, a direct descendant of Casimiro Sr who originally opened the cafe. This special connection of family to restaurant has kept the sense of tradition and culture within their restaurants especially strong.
Their menu for their St. Augustine holds the same sense of culture and tradition. Guests can choose from a selection of Sopas, Ensalada, Tapas, Pescados, Mariscos, Shrimp, Carnes, Pollo, Paella, Combinaciones, and Postres. Popular dishes include Columbia's Original 1905 Salad, the Original Cuban Sandwich, Ybor City Devil Crab Croquettes, the "Tapeo" Sampler, Red Snapper "Alicante", Fideua de Mariscos, Chicken & Yellow Rice "Valenciana", Paella "a la Valenciana," Marilyn & Joe "Salteado," Flan, and White Chocolate Bread Pudding.