Casimiro, Sr. and Adela Hernandez
As an ambitious young Spaniard, Hernandez left Cuba with his family and dreams in 1902. Lured by the opportunities in Ybor City, Tampa's cigar-producing Latin Quarter, he saw a prosperous future in the land of plenty. No stranger to hard work, he found his future in the Florida brewery on Fifth Avenue. Casimiro worked at the brewery long enough to glimpse a new opportunity at a place named the Columbia.
The restaurant began as a small corner café which was originally a humble saloon. Known for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches, the Columbia Café catered to Ybor City's hard-working immigrants and local cigar workers with light meals and strong drinks. With Florida's prohibition of alcohol in 1918, the Columbia hastily transformed into a restaurant and expanded the facility. Casimiro took over the restaurant next door, La Fonda, in 1919 and converted it into an additional dining room. His son, Casimiro Jr. was invited by his father to take the helm and so joined the business. La Fonda was owned by the Garcia brothers who went on to own a share of the Columbia Restaurant until the 1930s when Manuel Garcia sold his share to Hernandez and went on to buy Las Novedades in 1938.
Casimiro may have become a full-time restaurateur, but that is not to say he abandoned the sale of strong drink altogether. It was by no means uncommon, especially in Ybor City, where citizens had a healthy disdain for Prohibition laws. Bolita, an illegal lottery brought from Cuba, became Tampa's favorite pastime. The Columbia's bartenders were never without work, but demitasse cups replaced shot glasses. Tampa became known for Ybor City's delectable food and fine cigars. Columbia classics such as Spanish Bean Soup, Cuban sandwiches, and Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Yellow Rice) became the highlights of many a visit.
"Just when the Columbia began to soar financially in the late 1920s, events near and far away seemed to conspire against it. The Florida Land Boom went bust in 1926, and the high rollers disappeared. Casimiro Sr. passed away in 1929...and the stock market crashed a few months later, sending the nation into an economic tailspin...Casimiro Jr. faced a crisis that made Prohibition look like a honeymoon, but hard times were nothing new to Ybor City's citizens." (Excerpt from “Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating A Century Of History, Culture, And Cuisine” by Andrew T. Huse, 2009).