Ybor City Native was Known as “The Singer Waiter”
YBOR CITY, December 6, 2012 – Joe Roman, The Columbia Restaurant of Ybor City’s beloved ambassador, “Singing Waiter” and loyal employee for 58 years, passed away on December 5th, 2012.
Joe Roman, 84, started working at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa’s Historic Ybor City in 1954 at the age of 26. He took great pride in his work and it earned him a good living, on which he raised two sons with his wife of 63 years, Matilda.
He was born and raised in Ybor City, and enjoyed sharing the history of the area with visitors and locals alike.
Joe Roman was a favorite among guests because he often spontaneously broke into song. He earned his nickname, “The Singer Waiter,” in 1962, the year the first song that he sang to guests was released, Tony Bennett’s classic, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
Richard Gonzmart, 4th generation family member and president of The Columbia Restaurant Group first met Joe Roman when he was 3-years-old. Gonzmart visited with Joe and his wife days before Joe passed away. Gonzmart thanked him for his loyalty, leadership, and for showing the younger generations the meaning of professionalism in the hospitality business. Joe knew the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even the 6th generation family members of the Columbia.
In 2002, after 48 years of work as a waiter, Joe began to cut back on his hours due to problems with his knees, and then had to retire. He was very distressed that this meant he would not reach 50 years of service.
“We knew how important it was to Joe for him to reach that milestone,” said Richard Gonzmart. “We created a position just for him in conjunction with our 100-year anniversary in 2005 when we named Joe our “Columbia Restaurant Ambassador.” In that role, he continued what he did best, greeting guests and sharing the Columbia story with them. We did not have to train him in our history, he lived it first hand,” said Gonzmart.
On June 26th, 2012, Joe Roman was honored for his 58 years of service to The Columbia Ybor City at an Employee Appreciation Dinner.
He has also received other honors for his loyalty and longevity. “For his dedication to his work and to our family, we inducted Joe into our Columbia Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2000,” said Gonzmart.
In 2006, then Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio proclaimed August 16, 2006 as “Joe Roman Day” in the City of Tampa, Florida, to honor Columbia Restaurant’s Ambassador for over 50 Years of Service in the Hospitality Industry, along with acknowledging Mr. Roman’s commitment and dedication that have made a lasting impact on our community and its citizens.
He received the Bern Laxer Spirit of Excellence Award from Tampa Bay and Company in 2006.
In August of 2004 Joe was honored as the recipient of the Iris D. Larson Hospitality Award at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Orlando, Florida.
Video link to Joe Roman singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”
Link to Joe Roman interview with historian Andrew Huse of the University of South Florida
The original Columbia Restaurant was founded in Tampa’s Historic Ybor City in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. It began as a 60-seat corner café known for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches, frequented by the local cigar workers, and is now Florida’s Oldest Restaurant. Additional locations include St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, the Historic District in St. Augustine, The Pier in Downtown St. Petersburg, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Central Florida’s town of Celebration, the Columbia Café on the Riverwalk in Tampa and the Columbia Restaurant Café at Tampa International Airport. All Columbia locations are owned and operated by 4th and 5th generation members of the founding family; except for Columbia Restaurant Cafe at Tampa International Airport which is operated in partnership with HMSHost. Please see www.columbiarestaurant.com for more information.
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