By ARIEL HERNANDEZ
“I’m not just a person that walks around in a suit, shaking hands. I wake up at 1:30 a.m., wear blue jeans and start working,” said Richard Gonzmart, president and CEO of the Columbia Restaurant and this year’s Tampa Bay Ethics Award recipient.
The University of Tampa’s Center for Ethics will have its 25th annual Business Ethics Breakfast in the Vaughn Center Crescent Club on Friday, Oct. 16, to award Gonzmart for promoting and encouraging ethics and integrity. When Gonzmart was informed that he’d be receiving the ethics award, he was shocked.
“I truly am humbled because to me that’s the best recognition a person could receive: the recognition that people believe my purpose is to do what is right,” said Gonzmart. “I look at the past recipients and wonder how I could fall under that same field, it’s emotional to me. This award means that people recognize my efforts to make a difference in this world.”
Although Gonzmart is not certain whether he will be asked to make a speech or not, he says that if they allow him to, he will not write a speech, but instead will speak from his heart.
“I often get emotional, but I’ll try to control myself,” Gonzmart said.
Not only does Gonzmart serve on the university’s Board of Fellows, but he also visits UTampa at least once a year to speak with students who hope to work in the restaurant management industry.
“I’m always available afterwards to mentor students,” said Gonzmart. “It’s important for me to give back to others, to talk about the mistakes I made during my career so that they can learn from it. I also make sure to tell them that it’s okay to make those mistakes as long as they learn from them and don’t give up.”
During Gonzmart’s senior year at Jesuit High School in 1971, UT was a much smaller school and had a football team, which wanted to recruit Gonzmart to play on the team. However, he declined and decided to attend the University of Denver where he majored in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
“The fact that [UT] offered me the opportunity to attend their school was amazing because it was a great private institution,” said Gonzmart.
Gonzmart took over the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City in 1992, following the death of his father Cesar Gonzmart.
“My grandparents and parents are who made me into the person I am today,” said Gonzmart. “The education they gave me and the judgement of the priest [at Jesuit] made me a better person and the man I am today. Things like [receiving an award] don’t just happen, it happens because of the people who mold you. They are the people that loved me and nurtured me.”
Considering that Gonzmart is a fourth-generation owner of Columbia, he feels strongly about maintaining tradition. He’s already involved the fifth 5th generation, his daughters Lauren and Andrea, who work in the corporate office.
Gonzmart feels that history is important because we not only learn from it, but it allows people to correct the mistakes that were made.
“I choose to do things the right way without making mistakes,” said Gonzmart. “I’m willing to do anything that doesn’t ask me to jeopardize my integrity because that is all I have. I constantly tell my children that our integrity is all we have.”
Gonzmart says that your integrity actually makes life easier because being honest helps you to remember less.
“When you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory,” he said. “If you’re a liar, you better have a good memory because you have to remember that story and make sure you don’t change it.”
This 2015 Ethics Award is just one of the many awards Gonzmart has received since taking over Colombia in 1992. Some of the other civic and business hall of fames he was inducted into are the inaugural the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame, the Florida State University Dedman School of Hospitality Hall of Fame, Jesuit High School Hall of Fame for sports, and more.
Former Ethics Award winners, who demonstrated high ethical character in the course of their everyday lives, include former Florida governor Bob Martinez, Freddie Solomon, and John Sykes. According to Gonzmart, he studied what Sykes has done to the UT community for many years.
“He’s a man that when I see him, I stand close to him. I look at him as a person I wish to be like one day,” Gonzmart said. “He’s a man of his word and a man of highest integrity.”
Gonzmart is currently working on creating a culinary school to give an opportunity to students in East Tampa that come from low-income families or who face other personal problems.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations,” is a George Bernard Shaw quote that Gonzmart lives by.
“I carry this quote with me every day,” said Gonzmart. “I hope that [people that I’ve made an impact on] say I lived to make the world a little less difficult for others. I hope my daughters will see I worked as hard as I could.”
Ariel Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org