Oldest Florida restaurant uses lessons from Prohibition, Great Depression to overcome coronavirus pandemic
SARASOTA - The owners of Sarasota's oldest restaurant has been through it all: prohibition, the Great Recession and Depression, and two World Wars to name a few. It's now celebrating 115 years of operation in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is not exactly the celebration we had planned," says Michael Kilgore, Columbia's Chief Marketing Officer.
The group closed all its restaurants and brands. Despite Governor DeSantis allowing dine-in to return with restrictions, Columbia says it'll remain closed until they determine how best to open each location.
In response to the pandemic, the Columbia Restaurant Group set up an employee assistant fund for their furloughed workers. 100 percent of gift card sales made through the end of April go toward their employees. 215 had been helped so far.
The Columbia Restaurant Group told us they didn't know what to expect from the fund, but they had 115 years of experience on which to fall.
"With that history, we've gone through a lot. We've gone through World Wars, prohibition, the Spanish flu," Kilgore says.
The original Columbia Restaurant was established in 1905 in Ybor City as a simple corner cafe. The prohibition movement was gaining steam in the 1910s, a few years later.
According to Columbia's website, owner Casimiro Sr. could either lose the saloon during the Prohibition Era or find a new use for it. He joined forces with a restaurant next door, retooled his restaurant and doubled Columbia's size.
During the Great Depression, GDP in the United States plummeted 30 percent, and air conditioning was a relatively new technology. And yet, then-owner Casimiro Hernandez Jr. invested $35,000 - nearly $660,000 today - on creating the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa -- The Don Quixote dining room.
The gamble paid off.
They told SNN they learned this lesson - you can hunker down or double down. You just have to be smart, find opportunity and support your team.