BRANDON — When Ronnie and Dahlia Fernandez opened La Septima Cafe in 1995, their mission was simple: create a warm family environment based on the Cuban, Italian and Spanish cuisine of their Ybor upbringing.
Two decades and a new location later, along with two extra managers — their now adult children — the Fernandez family is basking in the success of one of few family-owned restaurants in Brandon to stand the test of time.
Dahlia and her husband were no strangers to the restaurant biz, having previously owned RJ's Pub in Valrico and Cafe by the Bay in South Tampa and building a relationship with the renowned Bern and Gert Laxer of Bern's Steakhouse.
"She (Gurt Laxer) said do what you know best," Dahlia Fernandez said. "Well, what we know best is our own home cooking, which is that Ybor city style food."
After scoping out some locations in Ybor, and following their instinct to avoid the nightclub-filled district, they again went with familiarity and decided to have the restaurant in their hometown of Brandon, where they had been living since 1973.
La Septima opened on Parsons Avenue on Feb. 9, 1995.
"It maybe had 40 seats in it," Fernandez said.
Much of their business was based on word of mouth, but Fernandez said they still felt off the grid, being away from Brandon Boulevard.
By 2011, La Septima Cafe grew exponentially and moved to La Viva Plaza on the corner of Lumsden and S Kings Avenue.
Four years later, La Septima is thriving despite the influx of major restaurant chains in the area.
"I think it ends up helping us because our food quality is very consistent and at a very high standard," said RJ Fernandez, the manager and Ronnie and Dahlia's son. "The proof is in the food and I think when people try it that just strengthens their opinion of us."
Zana Turner has frequented La Septima since its opening, and is not surprised that they've been around this long.
"Any restaurant that survives in this day and age only does so if management is hands-on and there," Turner said. "It's like we're family. We always leave with warm feelings after having dining there."
For Dahlia, 20 years seems to have flown by and with both her children, RJ and daughter Jennifer, taking management roles she has been asked if she'll retire, but she is still motivated to be a part of what believes is one of her most "awesome achievements."
As far as the future is concerned, the Fernandez family members all agree to simply focus on thriving while maintaining their family atmosphere.
"Because we like to have our presence there, opening a second or third location would spread our family too thin," RJ said. "Our main focus above everything is to keep that family aspect."
Contact Kelsey Sunderland at email@example.com.