Taste of Tampa: Florida's Oldest Diverse Business

| By Sarah Jester

This August, LGBT business enterprises from all over the nation will travel to the city of Tampa, Florida for the 2019 NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference, the largest LGBT business conference in the world. Tampa itself is no stranger to enterprise; in fact, it is home to a booming restaurant business that has been breaking records ever since its beginnings. Columbia Restaurant, located in Tampa’s Ybor City, is not only Tampa’s oldest restaurant, but also the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States. 

Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr., the Columbia began by serving Cuban sandwiches and coffee to local cigar workers, as Ybor City was once the cigar capital of the world. In 1919, in order to keep his doors open, Hernandez Sr. combined the Columbia with Manuel Garcia’s restaurant next door, La Fonda, which earned it the title of the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. As business grew, the Columbia set yet another precedent by opening Tampa’s first air-conditioned dining room in 1935. 

Today, Columbia Restaurant is still owned and operated by its original founding families, who have opened numerous other locations in Florida. Celebrity attendees have included everyone from Babe Ruth to Marilyn Monroe to George Clooney! Currently, the Columbia boasts live flamenco dancing nearly every night of the week, a wine list exceeding 1,000 wines, seating for up to 1,700 people, and delicious Spanish and Cuban cuisine. 

Through hard work and the fusion of two businesses and cuisines, the Columbia is a true testament to the importance of collaboration and diversity to success, mirroring the essence of the 2019 NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in this sense. When we uplift local, diverse businesses, everyone benefits, whether it’s the consumer, the business owner, or the economy itself. The Columbia is only a 10-minute drive from the Tampa Convention Center – if you’re attending the Conference, be sure to stop by for a dinner you won’t soon forget!

This post is part of our Taste of Tampa series leading up to our 2019 International Business & Leadership Conference taking place in Tampa Bay, Florida from August 13-16. Register for the Conference here