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Rum Runner


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  • | 9:47 a.m. December 23, 2011
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It takes a certain level of courage to endure to the harrowing experience of running with the bulls in Spain. The angry creatures bound through the streets of Pamplona, inadvertently maiming locals and tourists who may have a bit of crazy tucked into their courageous spirit.

Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, wasn't pondering the 16 fatalities that have occurred since the first run in 1910 when he made his first go through the madness in 2005. He was merely looking for a way to celebrate the University of South Florida's entry into the Big East Conference.

The 59-year-old restaurateur and philanthropist has participated in the run twice. From it, he's gleaned business lessons that have kept his restaurant growing through the downturn and life lessons that have kept him feeling young.

With a new restaurant opening in Tampa International Airport and a brand of tequila Gonzmart created selling out, it's no wonder he is jovial discussing one of the most frightening moments of his life. “You can't be afraid to take chances because we only get one go around,” he asserts.

Preparation: Gonzmart says preparing for the Running of the Bulls is more about planning a strategy than training physically. “We walked the course to look for an escape route and learn the turns,” Gonzmart recalls.

Although once the bulls were released and reality kicked in, the route he had scouted slipped from Gonzmart's mind and he ran for his life.

Another piece of advice he received from a Spanish friend was to abstain from the lure of Spanish nightlife and the celebrations of the previous night. “I was told to not drink the night before,” Gonzmart says. “And you have to beware of the people who had been drinking all night.”

Duck, dive, dip and dodge: As a serial marathon runner who plans to conquer the Boston Marathon in 2012, endurance came easy. But Gonzmart couldn't rely solely on speed and endurance for the run. “You just can't outrun a bull,” he says.

As a running back for Tampa's Jesuit High School, Gonzmart learned the art of dodging tacklers and hitting the hole. “Being a former running back, I was able to dodge the people who didn't know what they were doing and dart away from the bulls,” he says.

Revenge of the beef: Gonzmart recalls the most frightening moment from his first bull run in 2005. He was at Hamburger Corner, which is famous for being a turn that flings bulls from the cobblestone streets into mud-slathered walls, giving runners a brief respite from the bulls blasting through the streets.

“All I could hear was the thunder of the hooves on the cobblestone and the snorting,” Gonzmart says. “The snorting is vivid in my memory.”

Standing 15 yards from a bovine laying bottoms up, he stopped to peer at the pack of bulls. He glanced back and the bull was staring him, ready to charge. “I was thinking it was going to be the revenge of the filet mignon,” he laughs.

Business confidence: Gonzmart, a self-described adrenaline junkie, got more than a thrill from his adventure. He says he learned the importance of taking risks and never giving up, which he applies to his position at the Columbia.

In fact, he credits his experience in Spanish streets teeming with bulls as one of the motivations behind the Columbia's recent expansion into Tampa International Airport.

And a new spirit he created, called Screaming Richard Tequila, bears his name along with a picture of him evading bulls in action.

Another business move inspired by the run was a refusal to lower prices at his restaurant during the downturn. Instead of surrendering to the recession, he invested money into improvements at one the seven Columbia locations. “You can never give up,” Gonzmart remarks on his business strategy. “When with you run with the bulls, if you give up you die.”

 

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