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A year after furloughing most workers, Columbia Restaurant is hosting a job fair

Tampa’s Ulele, Goody Goody and Columbia locations around Florida plan to hire dozens of employees.
Columbia Restaurant bartenders Dave Cunca, left, and Savana Schilling did extra cleaning as they prepared for an extended shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 20, 2020. For the first time since laying off 90 percent of its staff during the pandemic, the Columbia and its affiliated restaurants will host a job fair on March 4, hiring dozens of workers statewide.
Columbia Restaurant bartenders Dave Cunca, left, and Savana Schilling did extra cleaning as they prepared for an extended shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 20, 2020. For the first time since laying off 90 percent of its staff during the pandemic, the Columbia and its affiliated restaurants will host a job fair on March 4, hiring dozens of workers statewide. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published Mar. 2
Updated Mar. 2

When the coronavirus pandemic struck a year ago, the Columbia Restaurant Group furloughed 90 percent of its employees — around 1,400 in all.

On Thursday, for the first time during the pandemic, it’ll go on a hiring blitz.

The collection of restaurants — which includes Ybor City’s historic Columbia and its outposts around the state, as well as local joints Ulele, Goody Goody, Casa Santo Stefano and the Cha Cha Coconut’s in Sarasota — plans to hire dozens of front- and back-of-house workers during a job fair in Ybor City.

The number of employees hired will vary by location, said spokesman Jeff Houck. At the Columbia in Ybor City, they’ll hire “at least a half-dozen cooks, but more than double that for servers and assistants and hosts,” he said. Meanwhile, Casa Santo Stefano only has a handful of openings, since it just opened in November.

Like most restaurants, the Columbia struggled mightily in the early months of the pandemic. Its restaurants and affiliated companies have received at least eight federally backed, forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans worth nearly $8.4 million to cover payroll, utilities and certain other expenses.

Related: Restaurant relief grants worth $25 billion could arrive via new stimulus bill

The job fair is seeking workers for dozens of openings across all the company’s restaurants, including the Columbia outposts in Clearwater and at the Tampa Bay History Museum. The company will hire cooks, dishwashers, hosts, takeout servers, kitchen supervisors, runners and more.

“Our employees are like family to us,” Columbia Restaurant Group president Richard Gonzmart said in a statement. “We’re looking to grow that family once again.”

The job fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Columbia Restaurant Museum, 2020 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. Interviews will be conducted on site. Applicants should bring a resume and face mask.