Richard Gonzmart remembers going to the downtown Goody Goody as a kid with his grandfather for burgers, and picking up pies on the way to family parties.
Born just a few blocks away, Gonzmart distinctly remembers the taste of those burgers, and the day the downtown Goody Goody restaurant closed nine years ago, he decided he wanted to revive it somehow. Now, he will.
The president and patriarch of the Columbia Restaurant group and Ulele restaurant on the river has acquired the “Goody Goody” brand from Michael Wheeler of Tampa, who owned it since 1981, and has purchased the recipes and 1950s style Goody Goody sign that was in a salvage/storage yard.
“For many years, I had Goody Goody on speed dial, and there were a lot of nights when I would call them, head home and pick up a bag of burgers on the way,” Gonzmart said. “I’m turning into the preservationist somehow of Tampa’s culinary history.”
The Goody Goody cemented a place in Tampa’s food scene, with a classic, casual identity as social hot-spot for homespun indulgence, akin to Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles, The Varsity in Atlanta or Nathan’s Famous hot dogs in Coney Island.
The first new incarnation of Goody Goody may not come until well into 2015, Gonzmart said, but it will have several especially local, or long-loved items: Burgers made with ground beef from the Strickland ranch, fresh-cut fries and house-made ice cream as well as house-made fresh pies – especially the famed butterscotch pie.
The Goody Goody started in Missouri, but the owners soon moved to Florida, and the original owner, Ralph Stephens, sold the Goody Goody to William B. Stayer in 1929, who owned it until selling operations to Michael Wheeler of Tampa in 1981.
The second and longest-lasting Goody Goody location was on Florida Avenue (“conveniently located in the Heart of Tampa,” one ad said) where it ranked as Tampa’s first real drive-in restaurant, with carhops bringing food to customers in the parking spaces. The location operated from 1930 until Nov. 30, 2005. The building was demolished in 2006, but not before key items like the sign were salvaged and put into storage.
Fans of that original site should not expect a rebuilt location. Instead, Gonzmart intends on reviving the brand in new locations, in new forms — albeit with the original recipes, including the “secret sauce,” he said. As for what’s in that sauce, “it’s like the Colonel’s secret recipe, I’m not going to tell.”
New sites won’t be drive-ins, or drive-thrus, Gonzmart said. Rather, they’ll be family-style sit-down restaurants. He’s now working with site selectors to find the right location to revive the brand.
Gonzmart has made a career out of reviving or sustaining classic cuisine. The Columbia just celebrated its 110th anniversary, with seven Columbia restaurants and cafes in Florida, as well as Cha Cha Coconuts tropical bar and grill and the newest restaurant. This August, Gonzmart celebrated the opening of his latest creation, the Ulele restaurant on the Hillsborough River downtown, named for the historic Native American woman and the fresh water spring next door, Ulele focuses on classic Florida dishes, and locally made craft beers.