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Columbia Restaurant's '1905 Day' goes the way of 5-cent coffee

TAMPA — The party is over.

For one day each September for years, diners lined up along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, devoting hours for a crack at the annual bargain that is 1905 Day, when the Columbia Restaurant rolls back its prices in celebration of its early years.

That was chicken and yellow rice for $2.95, the fabled 1905 Salad for $1.95. A cup of joe goes for 5 cents, which pairs nicely with a flan that rings in at 50 cents. Want something stronger to wet your whistle? A glass of sangria, 95 cents.

This September, expect to pay $8 for that fruit-spiked wine: 1905 Day has been canceled for the second time in three years.

The company doesn't release numbers on customers or the budget for 1905 Day, but surely it has been an expensive party to throw (Spanish bean soup, 50 cents!). Still, it says the decision to discontinue 1905 Day in 2016 was not about money.

Instead, it will be brought back only to mark the Columbia's special anniversaries.

• • •

Third-generation owners Cesar and Adela Gonzmart began celebrating 1905 Day in 1980 to commemorate the restaurant's 75th anniversary. From Oct. 10 to 12 that year, they held a "Back to Ybor City" street festival, offering "food prices of yesterday," as well as an art show, a flamenco revue, outdoor entertainment and a jazz brunch.

Andy Huse, in his book The Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating a Century of History, Culture, and Cuisine, described it like this: "The Columbia celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1980 by declaring '1905 Day' … offering food at yesteryear's prices. … Richard (Gonzmart) experienced a profound moment as he … saw his parents in the Patio. Behind the bustling scene, Cesar and Adela told Richard how proud he should be of 'what we accomplished, overcoming so many obstacles.' "

That first year, from 10 a.m. until closing, the line extended a full block along Seventh Avenue. This was still a time when business was tough in Ybor City, the economic outlook grim.

And due to its strong customer turnout, the Gonzmart family added 30 more days that year with a special anniversary menu.

After the monthlong magnanimity, the restaurant re-envisioned 1905 Day as a single-day celebration each September (the October date had been random; the restaurant was in fact founded on Dec. 17, 1903, the same day the Wright Brothers first took flight). Over the years, as new Columbia locations were added, the event expanded to encompass all of them (Tampa, Clearwater Beach at Sand Key, Sarasota, Celebration, St. Augustine and the now-gone St. Petersburg location).

• • •

This is not the first year that 1905 Day has gone dark. According to the Columbia Restaurant Group, the event ran for 33 years until it was canceled in 2014, a hiatus that "brought back the specialness of the event in 2015," which coincided with the 110th anniversary of the restaurant. For now, the group is committed to reinstating the day only during the significant anniversaries.

In September, as the restaurant group has done for the past 19 years, it will encourage guests to participate in the monthlong Community Harvest campaign, which donates a percentage of each customer's bill to a charitable organization. Columbia Restaurant Group has donated more than $1.8 million to nonprofit organizations in Florida since 1997.

Gonzmart debuts his much-anticipated Goody Goody in Hyde Park Village on Aug. 23: burgers, pies and shakes the way Tampa used to love them. But for your next crack at boliche for $2.95? You might be cooling your heels until 2025.

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

Columbia Restaurant's '1905 Day' goes the way of 5-cent coffee 07/28/16 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2016 8:58am]
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