A Long, Long Time Ago In Ybor City, Florida,

young Spanish-Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. began his American dream.  

 

Founder of the Columbia Restaurant, Casimiro Hernandez, Sr.

1882 – 

Tampa's population is only 499 citizens. Over the next 10 years, the city will double in size with the construction of a railway system, the boom of the cigar industry and the mass migration of workers from Sicily, Spain and Cuba. 

1902 – 

Casimiro, his wife Adela and four sons, Casimiro Jr., Lorenzo "Lawrence," Gustavo "Gus," and Evelio "Chacho," ride a steamship from Cuba to Tampa, searching for a new life. 

1903 – 

Happily adjusting to life in Ybor City, Casimiro works at the Florida Brewing Company on Fifth Avenue. The brewery uses water pumped from Tampa Water Works Station No. 3 to create lagers and ales for restaurants, saloons and outlets across Tampa. Saloon Columbia opens in Ybor City as a mode of selling Florida Brewing Company beer. 

1905 – 

Through years of hard work and strong relationships, Casimiro earns the opportunity to convert the Saloon Columbia, then owned by the Florida Brewing Company, into the Columbia Cafe. Locals knew the location, on the edge of Ybor City, as "Seminole" because Native Americans had used the spot as a trading post in the mid 1800s. The cafe served sandwiches, coffee and beer to hungry cigar workers.

Casimiro Hernandez, Sr.
1920 – 

The Prohibition movement prompts Casimiro to merge with the restaurant next door, La Fonda, marking the Columbia Restaurant's first expansion.

In Ybor City, bootlegging and bolita still prevail during Prohibition. 

1925 – 

Goody Goody first opens on Grand Central Avenue west of downtown, when Tampa was in the midst of the Florida land boom. Ybor City is teeming with businesses run by and for cigar workers and their families. The Ferlita family, immigrants from Santo Stefano Quisquina, Sicily, open the Ferlita Macaroni Factory on 22nd Street.

1927 – 

Casimiro Hernandez, Jr. takes over the operations of the Columbia Restaurant, using knowledge imparted by his father, a famous ice cream recipe from his brother Gus and a perfect coffee blend from his brother Chacho. He is the 2nd-generation caretaker of the company. 

1935 – 

Casimiro Jr., builds the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa at the Columbia Restaurant, complete with an elevated dance floor. The Don Quixote dining room is born. During the next 25 years, the restaurant overtakes an entire city block. 

1940 – 

Wartime rationing stokes local organized crime. Mafia figureheads frequent the Columbia Restaurant to discuss business over lunch. Bolita becomes Tampa's favorite pastime. 

2nd-generation caretaker of the Columbia Restaurant, Casimiro Hernandez, Jr.
Casimiro Hernandez, Jr.