Andrea Gonzmart, 5th Generation Owner/Operator, Columbia Restaurant Group
Five Generations of Excellence in Restaurants
Please share a little bit about your background personally and professionally.
I was blessed to be born into the hospitality industry. I began working in my family’s restaurants when I was 10 years old, and I continued working there every summer until I graduated from the University of South Florida. I joined the company full-time in 2001.
I was the first woman to work in the kitchen at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, learning all facets of the back of the house, from the dishwasher to the grill. I went on to be an assistant manager at our Columbia Restaurants in Sand Key, St. Petersburg, and Celebration. Then, I transitioned to our corporate offices in 2004 where I was able to work alongside my father, Richard, and learn another angle of our family business.
How did being a woman affect your professional path/path to leadership?
When I began my career in the restaurant industry at the age of 22, there were very few women in my company. I was fortunate to work underneath many wonderful people, including my father, that believed in me and guided me along the way. They have taught me to be confident in my decisions and compassionate with our employees. Every day there is something new to learn, and I am always excited to find out what it is!
How do women positively impact Florida’s hospitality industry?
In a once male-dominated industry, women have been able to push innovation and create experiences aimed at a broader and more inclusive audience.
What qualities make a great female leader?
Confidence, compassion, commitment, determination
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
It is important to take time to honor those who paved the way so that we can set new goals to achieve.
Is there a woman from history who you admire? Why?
The woman I admire the most from MY history would be my grandmother, Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, who is the third generation of our family’s company. She was truly a pioneer for women in the restaurant industry, so much so that she was named to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018. She loved our restaurants as though they were her second home and loved our employees as if they were all her family. I strive to be like her every day of my life.
Why is it important for more women to be recognized in leadership roles?
It inspires our next generation of young female leaders and recognizes those who set positive examples. Women who see leaders who look, act, and experience life like them in the industry make them feel included. It reinforces positive views of their gender and what they can achieve in the restaurant industry.
What piece of advice would you give to women coming up in hospitality?
Always have confidence in your decisions and trust your intuitions. It is also important to have compassion with your fellow employees; compassion is not a weakness, it is a quality of a strong leader.
What professional, personal or community service driven accomplishments are you proud of?
In the fast-paced restaurant industry, it is important to find balance. I am proud of the work I do every day for our 14 restaurants, but I am also even more proud of being a mom to my 12-year-old daughter, Amelia, who represents the 6th generation of our family business. I also think it is important to be involved in my community and give back through involvement in local boards, like the Florida Aquarium Board of Directors, Humane Society of Tampa Bay Advisory Council, University of South Florida Foundation Board of Directors, and the FRLA Board of Directors of Hillsborough County.