YBOR CITY, Fla. – He is just as much a staple of it Florida‘s oldest restaurant, in Columbia Ybor City, as the establishment’s famous 1905 salad. General Manager George Guito has been dedicated to the historic restaurant for over half a century since 1962.
“Oh, 58 and a half, going 59. I remember the Cuban sandwiches were 95 cents,” he recalled. “You know a lot of famous people passed by here.”
That includes Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, Guito said.
“I always ask George, ‘How old are you?’” Quipped Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group. “I’ll say, ‘George, how could I catch up with you?’ ‘
There is no job that Guito has not done.
“There are a lot of things in this room and this restaurant that I wired myself, like the chandelier,” Guito explained. ‘I repaired the fountain and I got the fountain running. He’s been working ever since. ‘
“George is the MVP,” added Gonzmart. “He loves this restaurant as if it were his great-grandfather who founded the restaurant.”
Guito started working at Columbia at the age of 15 under Cesar Gonzmart, Richard’s father and the third generation leader of the family business.
“When I came to try and work here, they said I was too young to work, and then I said I really had to work,” Guito recalls. “Earning $ 35 a week, 48 hours a week.”
“He was in trouble and my father took him under his wing,” Gonzmart said.
“I would have been a bad boy,” Guito admitted. “At that point I was going in the wrong direction if it hadn’t been for Mr. Gonzmart again.”
Cesar Gonzmart saw a bright future for the hard-working teenager and even sent him to school to become a butcher.
‘I just kept working and working and then Mr Gonzmart really helped me a lot. He said, ‘George, if you take care of the restaurant, if you take care of the business, I’ll treat you like Casey and Richard. “Whatever he did,” said Guito.
Gonzmart said he remembers the same story.
“I remember my dad taking care of him like a son and treating him like a son,” Gonzmart said. ‘He said,’ I want George to run the restaurant someday. ”
Guito had a lifelong career and a second family in the Gonzmarts.
‘When I got married, they were at my wedding. Richard and Casey, they’re just like my brothers, ”Guito said.
“My daughters call him Uncle George. That’s how he is seen as a brother, as a Gonzmart family member and that’s the respect I want everyone from George. He’s not an employee. He’s really part of this family. why this family business is successful today, ”said Gonzmart.
As for retirement, that’s not in Guito’s immediate plan.
“I really enjoy being here and I get up every day and look forward to coming to work and I enjoy the people I work with,” said Guito. “I want to work here as long as possible.”
Gonzmart said he thinks it could come true.
“The longest time an employee worked for us was 64 years old. George is going for the record. I’m betting on George,” Gonzmart said.
“In this world there are very few George Guitos,” he added. “There are people who are not so dedicated, concerned about everyone who works in this company. We can all learn from George Guito.”