Ulele (pronounced You-lay-lee) celebrates the vibrant fusion of ingredients from Florida waters and land once home to many Native Americans, including the young princess Ulele. Expect intricately flavored, visually appealing dishes prepared on the 10' diameter barbacoa grill. On Tampa's Riverwalk.
The nearly seven-feet tall, 500-pound bronze by Cave Creek, AZ artist Vala Ola celebrates the independent spirit of Ulele, the young daughter of local Tocobaga chief Hirrihigua. In 1528 Ulele pleaded for mercy and threw herself over 17-year-old Juan Ortiz. He was about to be roasted alive in revenge for the tribe's previous hostile encounters with European explorers. Ortiz, a member of the Spanish Narvaez expedition, was spared. Whether love or pity prompted Ulele's actions we will never know. But we prefer to believe it was love – just as we prefer to believe that the all-too-similar Pocahontas-John Smith story 80 years later is based on this one.
Call 813.999.4952 for reservations.
1810 North Highland Avenue
in Tampa Heights Tampa, FL 33602 Get Directions
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Ulele is a native-inspired restaurant and brewery, using fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and other proteins from Florida when they are available, just as my ancestors did.
Open since August 2014, Ulele sits on the banks of the Hillsborough River next to the Ulele Spring.. It is adjacent to the Water Works Park, which has been transformed into a family-friendly park thanks to our Tampa Mayor and City Council.
For the rest, we use food harvested and raised in the United States, preferably from family-owned and independent companies. Our organic food is not genetically modified, and has no hormones and antibiotics. The wines we sell are from the U.S.: California, Oregon, Washington and emerging areas, such as New Mexico, Virginia, New York, Texas and several other states.
We will serve craft beers, available only at Ulele, made on site by our Brewmaster Tim Shackton.
Part of The Columbia Restaurant Group, the eatery and park has reenergized and built renewed pride in Tampa Heights. It is just four blocks away from where my grandparents, mother and brother lived on 7th and Central Avenue. It is 300 yards from where I was born at St. Joseph's Hospital.
We are coming home.
This reminds me of my family's start in the restaurant industry, making beer in 1903.
My great-grandfather Casimiro Hernandez Sr. courageously left his home in Cuba with four young children, and very little money, because he saw opportunity in the U.S.
His dreams led him to the small town of Ybor City, which was becoming known as a world leader in cigar manufacturing. He took a job with the Florida Brewery based there.
Through dedication and hard work, he became general manager of the brewery. In those pre-Prohibition days, breweries would open small saloons to sell their products. That's how the Saloon Columbia was born on Dec. 17, 1903.
Casimiro Sr. dreamed of owning his own business, and he bought the Saloon in 1905, changing the name to the Columbia Café. The Café served cigar workers walking to and from work stopping for a coffee, beer or a small bite to eat.
In 1919, Casimiro Sr. passed away just as Prohibition was beginning. His oldest son, my grandfather, Casimiro Jr. inherited large debts and a business that had to reinvent itself since a large part of the Cafe's income came from the sale of beer and liquor, now illegal.
He merged with a small "Fonda" (dining room) next door to increase the ability to sell more food.
Tough times were ahead. One day the restaurant only sold $12. He told his best friend and employee Gregorio Martinez that he might be forced to close the cafe. The next day Gregorio offered Casimiro Jr. his life savings of about $500. He told my grandfather that too many families depended on him, those that worked for him and the families that he fed, even though they did not have the money to pay.
Through that generous act of faith, the Columbia remained open. During the Great Depression in 1934, a local banker who knew Casimiro Jr. as a man of integrity and a hard worker, loaned him $35,000 – on a handshake – to build Tampa's first air conditioned dining room, the "Don Quixote" Court room.
Casimiro Sr. and Jr. were very much Don Quixote dreamers, much like the title character of the novel. But through vision, hard work and a sense of community, sometimes dreams do come true – even if there are hardships along the way.
The Columbia went on to gain national acclaim and recognition with the help of Chef Francisco Pijuan and others. Two years later as the Depression was coming to an end, Casimiro Jr. built the Patio dining room, complete with a retracting skylight so patrons could enjoy and dine in the fresh air and under the stars.
In 1951, after years on the road, my parents returned to Ybor City to help my grandfather, who had suffered a heart attack that year. My father, Cesar, also believed he was Don Quixote.
Always dreaming grand ideas, he convinced Casimiro Jr. to build a 300-seat showroom, the Siboney Supper Club, in 1958 to showcase leading Latin American performers. It took awhile to succeed because Ybor City would struggle though the shuttering of many of the cigar factories as well as federal Urban Renewal projects in the 1960s that would rob Ybor businesses of their nearby workers and customers.
Cesar kept dreaming and looking for new opportunities. His vision took him to Sarasota in 1959, to a struggling, mostly vacant St. Armands Circle. It took years for the investment to pay off, but when it did, the dividends allowed the family to expand to St. Augustine in 1983 and then to other destinations in Florida.
My Don Quixote dream has been in my mind for over five years and on June 26, 2013, the journey finally began with the groundbreaking ceremony of Ulele.
I hope this will be my legacy, much like those of the previous generations of our family businesses left their marks on our company.
We opened Ulele thanks to so many: The Beck Group's Mark House and Beck's Architects Joe Harrington and Jeet Singh, our attorney Jeff Shannon, our CFO Dennis Fedorovich and COO Curt Gaither who make everything possible for our family, our Corporate Chef Jerry Bayona who restored the Columbia quality of our recipes and food preparation, along with all the men and women who are all part of our family business. Without them nothing is possible.
Keith Sedita, our vice president for new business, was key in the development of this dream, along with Ulele's Chef Eric Lackey and Brewmaster Tim Shackton.
I guess I take after both my grandfather and father. As with them, a lot of Don Quixote lives within me. Their history is frequently on my mind. It echoes in many of the choices we make in our business even as we create new memories and new history.
From the 1940s to '60s, the Columbia used ice cream from the Tropical Ice Cream Company, founded by Casimiro Sr.'s. third son, Gustavo.
Now Ulele makes organic ice cream, bringing back the famous coconut ice cream that was once made by a member of our family. It will be served in a halved coconut shell.
Think of it as fresh history.
President General Manager Executive Chef Head Brewmaster
As a fourth generation member of the world-famous restaurant's founding family, Richard Gonzmart grew up in the business. His earliest memory is when his grandfather, Casimiro Hernandez Jr., taught him how to identify fresh fish when Richard was 3 ½ years old At 12, he began spending summers in the Columbia Restaurant kitchen as an apprentice cook. He graduated from Tampa's Jesuit High School in 1971 and continued at the University of Denver School of Hotel and Restaurant Management and attended the Escuela de Turismo y Hosteleria in Madrid Spain. Richard is the great-grandson of Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., who started the Columbia in 1905 in Tampa's Ybor City. It is the oldest restaurant in Florida, the oldest Hispanic restaurant in the United States, and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. Under Richard's direction, The Columbia has expanded from two locations to seven. He has said he hopes the new Ulele concept will be his legacy. Richard and the Gonzmart Family Foundation are very active with numerous charities and community organizations. He and the restaurant have been awarded hundreds of honors. View full listing of honors, awards and civic involvement here
Vincent joins the Columbia Restaurant Group from Bloomin’ Brands, where he has been Managing Partner of the Palm Harbor Carrabba’s Italian Grill restaurant since 1999. He started his career as a Carrabba’s server in 1996 and was promoted to manager in 1999. Vincent earned Partner of the Year five times and won the President’s Award twice – prestigious annual awards from the restaurant chain.A graduate of Riverview High School in Sarasota, Vincent attended the University of South Florida with a major in Fine Arts. He was the Honorary Mayor of Palm Harbor in 2009, and served on the executive and education boards of the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
Eric Lackey is an award-winning chef with 22 years experience in fine dining. He worked as the Executive Chef of the Grill at Feather Sound and Grillmarks in Largo as well as Corporate Chef for Flamestone Grill and Besa Grill in Oldsmar. He also worked as the personal chef for the Tampa Bay Rays during the early years of the franchise. Early in his career, he worked at the Columbia Restaurant as a sauté chef. Eric has participated in numerous chefs' challenges and has appeared on TV in cooking classes, demonstrations and discussions. He is on the board of the Commercial Foods and Culinary Arts program of the Pinellas Technical Education Centers in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and will be chairman in 2014.
A native of Clearwater, Tim is a veteran commercial brewmaster, with strong roots in the brewing industry. His great grandfather John was a saloon owner in the thriving downtown Milwaukee area in the early 1900s. Tim's uncle James, an engineer working with Reynolds Aluminum in collaboration with Miller Brewing, developed the cost-saving dimple in the bottom of beer cans. After attending St. Cecelia Parochial School and Dunedin High School, Tim – like his father – joined the Marines. When Tim returned from Desert Storm, he accepted a position with Hops Grill and Brewery as a brewer's apprentice. Under the tutelage of John Schwarzen of Anheuser-Busch fame, Tim learned the art of brewing and led a team that built brewpubs throughout Florida. He and his uncle opened and ran Shackton's Frozen Custard and Burgers in Largo. He also worked at Total Wine and Darden Restaurants.