Is this the Most Remote Coffee Van in Australia?
Originally published in the Daily Telegraph, August 31. Read here.
Alisa Manton isn’t one to let distance stand in the way of a good cup of coffee.
A chef by trade, she’s been running a cafe and restaurant on the main street of Narrabri since 2007. The outbreak of COVID-19 has challenged the town of almost 6000 people, in northwest NSW, but her business is flourishing. It’s taken a combination of hard work, calculated risk, and a mighty good brew.
For one thing, she bought a coffee van on June 29, increasing its takings by 300 per cent in just two months, despite purchasing it in the middle of a global pandemic. Before she took it on, the van only did about 12 stops each day. However, as a local person who knows “99 per cent of people around here”, she knew it had a lot of potential among the business community. It’s now making 26 stops every day between 6:30am and 11am, Manton says the secret to its success is simple.
“People want decent coffee and decent food,” she told the Daily Telegraph over the phone. She’s currently working seven days a week, but she found 20 minutes to talk while shopping for her son’s eighth birthday the following day. She had been up since 4:30am, with a lot on her plate.
“You’re not pouring beer out of a tap, there’s an art to it,” she said. “You can have the best beans, the best milk, but you still have to be good at making coffee. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.”
NSW’S ROAD TO RECOVERY
It’s been a stressful year for the state’s regional businesses. The extent of the damage to employment and local economies is yet to be fully determined, but there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has caused a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety, with health and safety restrictions crippling trade. The NSW Treasury is currently conducting a survey into the impact of COVID-19 on businesses across the state to determine the amount of assistance available to help them now and in the days post-COVID.
The government announced a regional stimulus package of more than $100 million in April. “Regional NSW has done it incredibly tough over the past few years with the worst drought on record, unprecedented bushfires, and now COVID-19 taking its toll, so it’s important our regional communities get the backing they deserve to get them through this difficult period,” Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro, said at the time. However, the road to recovery will be long.
“I was really worried,” Manton admitted. When government rules meant that food and beverage trading was restricted to takeaway only, she said she was the only Narrabri restaurant that traded through. She changed her business model straight away, offering eight to ten choices of ready-made meals for sale and delivery, changing the menu every two weeks. She offered take-home sweets like banana bread, carrot cake, and hummingbirds, and on Fridays, her team began selling fresh pizzas and pastas. She also revamped her store and seized the opportunity to add a fresh lick of paint while dining-in was cancelled.
LOCALS SUPPORTING LOCALS
“At the start, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t do this’,” she said. “The town got me through it, we were doing up to 100 pizzas a night. I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but it’s been really, really good.”
The local business community has also been a significant factor to her success.
Her first stop every morning is at Santos, one of Australia’s biggest natural gas companies. It’s currently investing in a $3.6 billion coal seam gas development at Narrabri, which has attracted a lot of attention around the country, which would involve up to 850 wells being drilled across 1000 hectares of land in the area. Its fate is set to be decided in September, but for Manton, they’re simply good customers.
“They’re all great people. Even people like Todd Dunn (the project manager), he’s from here, and his wife is a vet. I know the family, they’re good local people,” Manton says. From there, the van serves a whole range of people: workers at main street businesses, travellers, tradies, industrial workers. She says keeping her doors open through COVID has actually increased her customer base.
“People saw me trading through it, so they’re sticking with me,” she says. “A lot of businesses closed for some time, and a few traded through, but the town I think is going to bounce back pretty well.”Explore
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