From what I was able to see during my short visit to Tampa is that Tampa is on the up and up!
When you walk around the place you can see that there is a lot going on. Construction, remodeling, re-inventing and reinvigorating of tons of buildings is all over the place.
This was once one of the most important cities in the Northern Hemisphere, known for its cigars and other cultural products. But with the Cuban embargo a large part of the city was left unused or almost forgotten. Until now!
I saw lots of exciting additions and tons of projects where they are taking the old and turning it into something new. This ambiance of renewal gives it a unique energy and sets it apart from the rest of Florida.
One of those places, newly opened, is Ulele Restaurant. It is special, and it adds a special flavor to Tampa’s rebirth.
What Makes Ulele Restaurant Stand Out
Ulele is a restaurant owned by one of the oldest and most respected families in Florida, the Gonzmart family. They are without a doubt the most successful restaurant owners of the area. They are also the owners of the insanely popular and oldest restaurant in Florida – Columbia Restaurant.
Ulele is located in an area that used to be abandoned. The building used to be a water pump for the city that was built in 1903. It was called Tampa Water Works Pump.
The Gonzmart Family along with the Mayor of the City decided to give this area new life. The mayor promised to take care of the surroundings when the Gonzmart family opened Ulele. Today, it is called Water Works Park and it is a lovely, family friendly place.
Another of the features that make Ulele unique is that its menu takes you back to when the Native Americans lived in the area. It is based on the type of food that natives had.
The meals are filling and tasty, buyt don’t forget to save room for dessert. The Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream is to die for. I’m not sure how native the dish is, but it is soooo different and tasty that I call it a “can’t miss.”
Did You Know?
The restaurant’s name, Ulele, was taken from a woman of the Timucuan tribe. She lived on the area in the 16th century. There is a legend that says that she saved the life of a sailor by whisking him away from her vengeful father on the Hillsborough River. I guess you could say that she is Tampa’s version of Pocahontas.
Interesting Facts About Ulele and History of the Gonzmart Family
Fun Facts About the Restaurant
• The wines sold at the restaurant are from the U.S.: California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Virginia, New York and Texas.
• Some of the seats and tables were made with wood from either an old barn or an old courthouse.
Artwork At Ulele
• Here you will see art pieces that belong to Richard and Melanie Gonzmart’s private collection.
• There are 1789 signed French stain glass panels over the kitchen doors that were purchased by Cesar and Adela Gonzmart at a 1972 auction.
• There is also a piece called “In the Park.” It’s based on what Richard considers Picasso’s greatest painting, the controversial “Guernica.”
• The “Laughing Horse” sculpture is by Victor Delfin, one of the leading sculptors and painters in Peru.
• A glass fish, part of Apostol’s “The Sea” collection can also be seen.
• The iconi Ulele front doors were created by noted metal worker Dominique Martinez and his team at Rustic Steel Creations.
• The brewery is 2,100-square-foot.
• 465 gallons are made per brew.
• They use malted grains, hops, yeast, fresh fruit and locally sourced honey to create their beers.
• They don’t use artificial preservatives of any kind.
The History of Gonzmart’s and Their Stamp on the City of Tampa
• Casimiro Hernandez Sr. left his home in Cuba with four young children, and very little money.
• He was searching for better opportunities in the U.S.
• He ended up in Ybor City in Tampa and found a job at the Florida Brewery based there.
• After years of dedication and hard work, he became general manager of the brewery.
• Before the Prohibition breweries had small saloons to sell their products. That’s how the Saloon Columbia was born 1903.
• Casimiro Sr. bought the Saloon in 1905. He also changed the name to Columbia Café.
• In 1919, Casimiro Sr. passed away.
• His oldest son Casimiro Jr. inherited large debts and a business that had to reinvent itself due to prohibition.
• Columbia Café was turned into a small “Fonda” (dining room) but business wasn’t good.
• Gregorio Marinez, a friend and employee gave his savings, $500, so the restaurant kept running.
• Then in 1934, a local banker who knew Casimiro Jr. loaned him $35,000 to build Tampa’s first air conditioned dining room, the “Don Quixote” Court room.
• Two years later Casimiro Jr. built the Patio dining room.
• In 1951 Richard Gonzmart’s parents (the current owner) returned to Ybor City.
• The Columbia Cafe now has over 1500 seats, and they have several locations throughout Florida.
• Ulele is now the newest hot spot, with the best views.