Andres Jaramillo is Colombia’s Ambassador of “good times.” As the mastermind of the magic that drives the most successful and famous restaurant in the history of this country, Andrés Carne de Res, this entrepreneur, opened a new chapter in his life with the city’s Andrés D.C in 2010.
Entering through the wooden doors of ‘Andrés D.C.’ one faces a large, leather-bound edition of Dante Aligheri’s The Divine Comedy. On an open page: “ Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” The idea of staying sober seems clear in medieval text. On the main floor of this towering four-story restaurant – “Inferno” – celebrating takes on an epic proportion.
The road to ‘D.C.’ was more a comedy of errors than a master plan for Andrés Jaramillo. As the son of a psychiatrist who worked with problem children, immersed in traumas and who needed around the clock care, the Jaramillo home was one of grounded values. Yet, a nearby mental asylum, in Chapinero, and where his father worked, gave plenty to talk about over the kitchen table. Case studies in madness and Jungian theories on analysis became part of the young Andrés’ daily diet. It seemed all too real, growing up in a conservative Bogotá of the sixties, to be slightly crazy. “I became attentive to the hidden meaning in symbols,” says Andres, sipping black coffee on the open-roof terrace of his Heaven – “Paradiso.” And symbols were motivational. They also held power of attraction. In the case of Andrés Carne de Res, this translates into more than a quarter of a million visitors each year.
Behind the crazy aesthetics that exemplify his Chia-based restaurant, there is a keen businessman with a watchful eye. An obsessive attention to detail; from the way the plates are set, to the angle of the napkins with his initials embroidered on them, his name is everywhere and means everything to the customer. It’s a seal of approval.
Starting with forty tables and a grill more than two decades ago, Andrés Carne de Res has grown into a behemoth of dining. He employs hundreds of cooks, thousands of waiters from Bogotá Universities who depend on him for work, paying their tuitions, craftsmen and women from around the country who supply his restaurants with hand-painted objects and utensils. There is a knick-knack for every moment and thousands of mementos to madness.
Bogotá in the sixties was a very livable place. Quaint neighborhoods extended north from Chapinero and the Carrera 15, in Chicó, was the city’s ‘Fifth Avenue.’ It was in this protected world of conservative values that Andres found himself, wandering the streets in curiosity from school and where at night, his father would tune in on shortwave to HJCK while Fidel Castro spoke and news beamed in from Havana.
But it was Bogotá’s buses that really ignited this young man’s imagination. Buses housed a particular “universe” for they represented a cultural clash between kitsch and sophistication. It was an experience to ride the bus and more than signifying that one was going places, it was a metaphor of an expanding city, with endless possibilities and destinations. Today, Andrés has recreated his glowing “bus” in Andres D.C, and inside the El Retiro shopping center. Everyday, thousands are transported into a world of sensations and a genuine ‘Colombia’ experience.
After a family crisis erupted when Andres sawed-off the legs of the kitchen table to “reinvent” the family music box, a career in electrical engineering seemed secured. Yet fiddling with cables didn’t seem to light up Jaramillo’s ambitions, and although he excelled in his studies, there was a hidden objective in heading off to University: “I wanted to meet women. That was my big secret.”
As a student of architecture, first at La Javeriana, and then Philosophy and Economics at La Nacional, Andrés Jaramillo, found himself restless and “endured” four semestres of higher education. Although he considers it one of the most beautiful periods in his life, he seemed to want more, deciding to drop out on several occasions, and look for the means of starting his own business. His first idea came organically, how to serve the pretty girls of Bogotá, snacks and then meet them. Into this world of “black and white,” as he calls it – color television being still a novelty in the 70s– and where social stratification was soldered together like the ironwork in his restaurants, Jaramillo, decided to add color to his existential life. “I was tired of thinking. I was in a crisis.”
Months of planning and looking for the right location resulted in Andrés opening up a tienda next to an all-girls academy run by the socialite Victoria Bossio. The venture didn’t last long and a quarrel over a padlock forced the four table diner to shut down. The hard work and originality of his idea, did show Andrés that typical Colombian food and pretty girls were a good combination. Despite trying to graduate three times in this youth, Andrés did eventually get his degree, one in ‘Creative Business’ from La Nacional, when Andrés Carne de Res grew and evolved into multi-million dollar business.
With the snack experiment for the twenty-something Jaramillo in shambles, the road ahead lay uncertain. All that was required for him was to pave his own destiny. With the help of an uncle, Andres Jaramillo, got into bulldozers. Selling heavy machinery for Fiat Allis opened up Colombia to this ambitious young man and the prospect of consolidating a friendship with Maria Stella, an elegant young woman he met on a bus, chased down a street and would later become his wife, the mother of his children and co-partner in Andrés. “I made my destiny by changing it,” recalls Jaramillo.
Bulldozers gave way to banana groves and in 1980, Andrés, with a contract from Uniban, went to the Colombian Urabá to oversee agricultural and welfare programs for the organization. Despite the short-term contract, Andrés, learned valuable lessons on social responsibility, worker’s rights and the importance of investing in people. “I saw a lot of injustice. I realized that as a country, we are nothing unless we put people first.”
An unpleasant incident involving three policemen on the beach in Cartagena changed the course of Andrés’s life and to a great extent, Colombian restaurant culture. On his way to Nicaragua to join the FMLN, Andrés still separated from Maria Stella and “madly in love” was frisked on a beach and almost thrown into jail for his hippie looks. It was a bad moment for his revolutionary ideals, and he decided to abandon the struggle for Central America for a life on the outskirts of Bogotá, Chia.
“I wanted a cabin with flowers.” With these words, Andrés Jaramillo, describes how his wish to start a restaurant in the verdant fields of Cundinamarca began to materialize. Calling on an old friend Andrés Pernod, Andrés Jaramillo went into business. Without much debate over whose name to put first on the door, the two Andres’ decided that meat was the house speciality. But the name had to rhyme. One neighbor nearby went by “Teresa, Carne y Cerveza” and another “Agusto Carne a Su Gusto.” It seemed to good to be true. “The establishment had to be called ‘Andrés Carne de Res,’ calls Jaramillo.
A fairytale start turned into a struggle. “We didn’t have light or a telephone”. But word soon got out that there was something magical happening under a tin roof in Chia. An ecclectic ambience, fueled by Andres’s passion for music, a roaring stone oven, grilled tenderloin brought in the first customers. The first object to adorn his restaurant: the reassembled parts of the vintage Radiola, Andrés had dismembered years ago in his family’s home.
Hard-work became history in the making. Celebrities, CEOs and common folk began making the pilgrimage to Chia on weekends. Andrés Jaramillo and his “carne de res” became the obligatory place to celebrate anniversaries, weddings and the arrival of friends visiting Colombia. The restaurant grew and more objects started filling up the few remaining empty spaces of his wacky shanty. The experience of heading out of town to the cow pastures of Chia became known as “Andresear.”
But there was something more sublime behind the success of Andrés. Colombian culture, with its religious iconography, regional foods and fruits, music and buseta-inspired pop culture, had been shunned for decades as being beneath the standards that existed elsewhere. Against this backdrop of “arribismo” – snobbery and social climbing – Andrés turned the tables. By rescuing the symbols of some inherent shame, he restored pride in what it means to be Colombian. “It isn’t a place of vanity” claims Andrés. “It’s a place of happiness.”
Andrés Carne de Res and Andrés D.C., are not only case studies in business management, but of country-building. Every day thousands of foreigners visit his restaurants to revel in the some of the madness and magic that makes this country. For most outsiders a trip to “Andrés” is an obligatory stop on the travel map; then the “experience” hits home, often thousands of miles away, of what it was like to taste an uchava, drink aguardiente from a clay pot and dance on tables to vallenato.
Andrés Jaramillo brought back to life so much more than the thousands of broken objects that adorn his restaurants: he restored a sense of hope in a country that a times, seemed beyond repair. Success hasn’t shaken or stirred his values though. Behind the gimmicks and gadgets that drive his businesses, he likes to see himself as the “boy who broke the Radiola.”
Andres D.C / Plaza de Andrés – C.C El Retiro (Calle 81 with Cra. 12).