A Family of Gators

Featured in HOME Magazine

Written by Mary Goodwin

Championship titles, cutting-edge research, elite academia. The legendary University of Florida holds a special place in the heart of most every Gainesville resident—but for this Gator-alumni family, the fateful roots and ties stem much deeper.

For the Riscos, it was where Carlos found his dream job, where he and Omi sent their children to college—and most importantly, where the start of their family began.

The Cuban couple met at the University of Florida, while Carlos was completing his undergraduate degree in animal sciences and Omi her bachelor of science in accounting. They married in 1977 at the end of Carlos’ freshman year, as a member of UF’s inaugural class of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Omi worked as a circulation manager for the Gainesville Sun until her husband obtained his doctorate of veterinary medicine in 1980.

Carlos’ graduation opened a number of doors for the family. Landing a job at a prestigious animal practice allowed them to settle in Omi’s favorite part of the world, Southern California. They spent the next 10 years there, while Carlos worked as a large animal veterinarian specializing in dairy, and Omi stayed home to care for their three children, Carlos, Cristina and Jackie, now 32, 30 and 22.

“It was the best of two worlds,” Carlos said. “With 190 dairies and 30 miles from Hollywood, I had the cows and Omi still had the city.”

Because the students at the University of California, Davis did externships through the practice Carlos was employed, he acquired an itch to teach and accepted a faculty position in 1990 at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Leaving California was particularly hard for Omi, but coming to the town she fell in love with as a college student simplified the relocation. The couple flew to Florida to meet with a realtor and visit some of the homes on the market. After seeing just one house, Omi knew she wanted to live in Haile Plantation’s Grahams Mill. The home they found, built by Thomas W. Hunt, Inc., was completely finished, except for the landscaping. After two short hours, the Riscos wrote a big check, shook hands with the realtor and flew back to California.

“We came back one month later and everything was exactly as we agreed,” Omi said. “The landscaping was fabulous and everything was and still is, original- everything from the faucets to the pool. To this day, we haven’t had any problems with the house.

Because their house was one of the first built in the neighborhood, the family enjoyed plenty of land without having to care for it. “It was like living on acres, but it was still a neighborhood,” Omi said. “It was private; you couldn’t reach out and touch the neighbor’s window.”

“We like the trees and greenery and tranquility,” Carlos added. “It was like coming back to the Florida I remembered when I was a student.” The open floor plan of the home captured the attention of the Riscos, especially Omi, who could fulfill her lifelong passion of cooking in the spacious kitchen, while still being able to watch her children in the adjoining family rooms—where they do most of their living.

“Like any kid coming from Southern California, it took some getting used to,” Carlos Jr. said. “But some of my greatest memories are playing touch football in the grass with neighborhood kids I still keep in touch with. There’s a real sense of community here, it’s a great place to grow up as a kid.”

“It wasn’t until I moved away from Gainesville that I truly appreciated what it has to offer,” Cristina added. “The small-town charm, along with the diversity and vitality of a big city—and most certainly I miss my mother’s authentic ethnic cooking.”

After her children grew older, it didn’t take long for the business-oriented mother to turn her master chef skills into a booming business. As the owner and operator of Omi’s Kitchen, which exclusively serves homemade ethnic food, she oversees her restaurant while catering up to six events each week. Omi’s food is dubbed a Gainesville favorite among locals, specializing in her award-winning lobster bisque, her 12-hour slow-roasted pork, flank steak, Churrasco, summer salad and chicken lasagna.

“You grow up as a kid eating this incredible food that you know you love, but to see other people talk so much about how they love it is a good feeling,” Carlos Jr. said. “We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

“People just say, ‘I want Omi food,’” Jackie added. “She has such a persona; all my friends love her food.”

Omi is looking to expand her business even further in Gainesville, adding a midtown location in the next three years, and possibly adding a food truck project, which would allow a portable location for Omi’s Kitchen to deliver delicious, home-cooked food in a convenient, quick fashion.

“It will be a great opportunity for students to have homemade food at a good price,” Omi said. “Whether it’s lunch in between classes or dinner with friends, it’s not fast food—it’s Cuban, Mexican, ethnic food. I have a lot of stuff coming up; I’m talking to a lot of places about doing exciting things.”

The couple’s tenacious work ethic was passed on to each of their children, who all graduated from the University of Florida. Carlos, who obtained a post-graduate degree in digital media, now lives in Atlanta working in production; Cristina lives in Silver Spring, Maryland teaching at the University of Maryland, while completing a postdoctoral research fellowship for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences; and Jackie is completing a master of public heath degree at UF, with hopes to work in government or non-profit.

In September, Carlos was promoted to chair of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the vet school at the University of Florida. While he continues to teach and construct his research, he is taking on a more administrative role.

“I’m excited, it’s a wonderful department with good people who are very talented,” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity to be involved in their careers. It’s a very fine university that has a lot to do with this family. All good things that have happened to us have come back to UF.”

“We know so many families who have moved away and come back,” Omi added. “They go to other cities and it’s not the same. There’s something about Gainesville that always brings people back.”