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40 Under 40 - Class of 2021
Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 2 weeks ago

Casey Gonzmart Jr., 38

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Columbia Restaurant Group, owner/operator
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

Casey Gonzmart Jr

38

Owner/operator Columbia Restaurant Group

Casey Gonzmart Jr. was 12 when his father asked that he shadow a man named Miguel.

This was in the mid-1990s. For decades, chefs at the family’s popular restaurant had been cooking mostly by feel and it was time to get the recipes written down. So Gonzmart’s father, Casey Gonzmart Sr., asked his son to follow Miguel around for the summer and write down the recipe for the black bean soup.

The eatery was the Columbia Restaurant, the internationally-known restaurant in Ybor City founded by Gonzmart Jr.'s great-great grandfather Casimiro Hernandez Sr. in 1905, and this was his job for much of that summer.

From that year until he graduated from high school, Gonzmart, who lived with his mother in Sarasota, would head to Tampa each summer to work at the family restaurant, over time gaining experience in every facet of the business.

Gonzmart is the fifth-generation member of his family to oversee the restaurant founded by Hernandez 116 years ago. Today he operates the Ybor City restaurant and six others that make up the Columbia Restaurant Group.

His father and uncle, Richard Gonzmart, are still active in the business, as is his cousin Andrea. (Andrea Gonzmart was a Business Observer 40 under 40 winner in 2007, when she was 27.)

The Gonzmart family is lucky, he knows. A lot of family businesses fail by the third generation, doomed by mismanagement or no one left in the family willing to be a part of it.

"We put a great deal of effort into giving back to all of our communities one way or another. Because there is no way we could be around 116 years unless we were able to take care of those communites that have taken care of us.' Casey Gonzmart Jr.

Gonzmart credits the summers he spent working in Tampa as what made him fall in love with the business and for teaching him what it takes to run it. Chief among those lessons, he says, is an appreciation for the people who work for you and the community you serve. Neither, he says, could there be success without.

And he credits his father for teaching him about hard work and dedication, about being accountable and about doing whatever job is required of you.

“Every single generation has worked in the restaurant from the ground up, so nothing has ever been handed to anybody,” Gonzmart says. “I don’t know how other businesses do it, but for us, between myself and my cousin, we’ve worked in the kitchen since we were 10 and 11 years old. We weren’t handed the keys and told, ‘Here, go do it.’”

Birthplace: Sarasota

Years in the area: 19

Marital Status/Children: Married to wife Jenny with daughter Adalyne (3)

Alma Mater/Degree: Florida State University degree in Business Administration and Hospitality Management

What community group or organization are you most involved with? I help represent the Gonzmart Family Foundation in its numerous charitable efforts, which provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than 100 nonprofits each year. Suncoast Charities for Children in Sarasota as well as the YCDC in Tampa.

What's the weirdest job you've ever had? I worked for the Chicago White Sox as a bat boy when I was in elementary school. Then in 1999 the Devil Rays needed an experienced bat boy and asked me to come in. I ended up working for them for three years in high school. They paid me $35 a game!

What's your top tip for being productive?  Write everything down. This allows you to effectively prioritize.

If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? A sports analyst for ESPN or Fox Sports.

What's your favorite off-hours activity? Being with my wife and daughter. If I’m not at work, I’m with my family.

Have you gone to the movies in 2021? If yes, what did you see? No, we haven’t been to the movies, but we did like “Luca” on Disney +.

What's the top item on your bucket list? Visit all 50 states in a RV.

What's your favorite podcast? “OutKick the Show” with Clay Travis

Where is your happy place? Anywhere with my family - especially Disney.

Describe yourself in three words:  Leader, Hard worker, Motivator (yeah, that’s four words …)

Who is your mentor for your career and why? My father: Casey Gonzmart, Sr. He taught me the ins and outs of the business; Inventory, food preparation, working with my hands to fix something broken, knowing everyone’s name and details of their lives, being available and accountable.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from your mentor? Titles are meaningless. My father instilled in me from a young age that hard work and dedication would be key especially as an owner. If a job needed to be done, he did it. Getting your hands dirty is always part of the job.

Everyone has their own path. He never pushed me into any direction professionally, but he supported me to live my dream in my own way, wherever that path would take me. After almost 10 years away from the family business, I am back and couldn’t be happier.

Always say yes to any opportunity no matter how small.

Don’t count the number of hours you work; you will always feel underpaid. This is a 116+-year-old family business and it takes true passion to be an owner. You can never clock out.

Remember your responsibility to community. I have watched my uncle Richard entrench our family business into our local communities and give back year after year. We have a responsibility to the communities we serve to help make them better.

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