Columbia owners plan culinary school for at-risk youth

One of Richard and Casey as boys with their parents Cesar and Adela Gonzmart.
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Richard Gonzmart’s newest culinary challenge is one that is packed with emotion.

“I’ll probably have some tears coming down my face because I know my mom and dad would be proud of what we’re doing,” he said from his office across the street from his family’s historic restaurant.

Richard’s family is the force behind the world-renowned Columbia Restaurant, which opened its doors in Ybor City in 1905. Richard, now the 4th-generation President/CEO takes pride in his work.

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And, his passion.

“My mom told me it was important to help children who weren’t as lucky,” he says.

Richard and a team from the Columbia Restaurant Group recently returned from a May 10th trip to New Orleans. While in the Big Easy, the group toured Café Reconcile – a restaurant and culinary school “committed to addressing the system of generational poverty, violence and neglect in the New Orleans area”, according to its website.

The school, which began in 1996, uses a culinary program, including a working cafe, to teach at-risk youths ages 16 to 22 crucial life skills intended to give them a path to success.

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While there, Richard saw the impact that Café Reconcile was having in the local community. It’s the blueprint for what he wants to bring back to his hometown.

“It’s emotional. This is the biggest thing I’m going to do,” he said. “There are so many young people today in high school that don’t have the support that I did. We want to help give them hope. We want to give them vision.

His culinary school will teach life skills and “how they can succeed”. The school will go in Tampa Heights and will include a restaurant that Richard hopes to name “George’s Café”, after his father.

The location is special to Richard. It will be one block north of the school he attended as a child inside the building where he bought his first set of bedroom furniture 43 years ago after marrying his wife.

It’s a merger of his passion to help others and his hope to create a brighter future for young, at-risk people.

“We’re going to do the culinary school with a restaurant attached, non-profit,” he said. “The students that graduate can get paid and the students who are studying can work and people can come in there on a weekly basis and the menu will change.”

The culinary school is set to open in summer of 2017.