Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Santa Claus photo courtesy of Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia
Red Willis Jeeps in Colombia
A few years ago, while on a press trip to Colombia as a guest of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia, I met an interesting man who had a brilliant idea. He took that idea and translated it to a million dollar enterprise.
While studying for a business degree in Miami in the 1950s, he saw an ad for a US Army surplus sale; part of the sale were 15 WWII Willis jeeps. The price was right i.e. extremely low. He purchased all of them, took them back to Salento, Colombia, cannibalized a few to make the rest run and painted them all a bright red. He then borrowed funds from family and friends to purchase espresso machines from an Italian company and added a small generator to each jeep to run the espresso makers. He added a colorful awning with an advertisement, hired and trained pretty girls to work as baristas and set up his jeeps as mobile cafeterias in front of every mall in Bogota.
The response was practically instant and very rewarding. He made good money. Colombians drink more coffee than most North or South Americans, and he paid off the loans in 17 months!
He now personally owns over 55 red Jeep cafeterias found in most large Colombian cities parked in front of malls, near the main squares, in the parks and other similar places. All were sold by the US Army as surplus for very little money, instead of refurbishing them and reusing them. In addition, he sells red Jeeps that he still purchases from the US Government to other Colombian entrepreneurs.
Nowadays, red Willis Jeeps are ubiquitous in most Colombian towns. The majority are US Army surplus and are used as mobile cafeterias, mobile flower stalls, peddler’s wagons, tourist transports, fire engines, mariachi stages – yes, I saw a group of 5, similar to a mariachi band, driving down the street using their red jeep as a mobile stage; you name it, there is a red Willis doing it. Even Santa Claus gives Rudolph and Dancer and Blintzen and the other reindeer a rest and rides a red Jeep when in Colombia!
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