Coming from a government background, Brogan Hanrahan did not have any prior experience in hospitality when she launched Black Russian Caravan Bar.
Instead, she had to teach herself about a market she had no knowledge of when she launched the mobile café.
“When I moved to Katherine from Darwin, I noticed there was such a gap in the café market,” Brogan says. “It was a challenge. I’m a first-time business owner as well but I kind of learnt along the way.”
Katherine is a small country town located 300 kilometres south of Darwin. It has a large air force population and attracts plenty of tourists thanks to the nearby ancient rock paintings, Katherine Gorge and Nitmiluk National Park.
“We have a large variety of tourists come through,” Brogan says. “Whether they’re locals from Darwin who have come to visit, the younger demographic or grey nomads that travel with their own caravans.”
When Black Russian Caravan Bar was first launched, Brogan kept the café mobile, but she has now settled on a permanent location.
“The first two years we were towing it back and forth on the lawns behind the Katherine Visitor Information Centre. Now we have it permanently parked in the court yard,” she says.
Grounding the café has provided Black Russian the opportunity to grow beyond the caravan.
“We’ve been able to add some shade and waterproof structures to the caravan which has increased our ability to trade longer during the seasons,” Brogan says.
“We don’t just trade during tourist season now, we are able to work for the majority of the year.”
Despite the name, Black Russian Caravan Bar sticks to serving non-alcoholic beverages.
“The original idea was to have the café running during the day and during the night we would hire out the caravan for mobile bar events but we just got so busy with the café side that we never rented it out,” Brogan says.
Instead, Black Russian Caravan Bar has focused its menu on three things: coffee, cakes and toasted sandwiches.
Black Russian serves Seven Miles’ Tazzina blend, and has developed a supportive relationship with the roaster.
Tazzina is a blend of arabica and robusta coffees, delivering a malty, caramel sweetness with a deep, long-lasting crema. The full-body of the blend maintains its strength and sweetness with milk.
“Our relationship with Seven Miles has been brilliant,” Brogan says. “I’ve been working mainly with their supplier in Darwin, and I’ve had absolutely no dramas or problems with its quality.”
To go with its coffee, Black Russian Caravan Bar serves an array of house-baked pastries, including the fan favourites banana and maple bread, and the jumbo brownie – about four time the size of a regular serve.
Brogan says Black Russian Caravan Bar’s most interesting offering is its toasted sandwiches, coming in eight different varieties.
“They’re not just your normal toasted sandwiches. We do a few quirky recipes,” she says.
“The most popular one, and probably the most quirky, is the creamy chicken, bacon and leek toastie. Essentially, it’s what you’d expect to find within a pie but in a toasted sandwich.”
Brogan also recommends the Texas pulled pork and the reuben toasties.
Brogan says the best part of opening Black Russian Caravan Bar has been creating something within the community.
“When I moved here, there really wasn’t a café culture or even use and engagement of outdoor space,” she says. “To see that idea come to life and be well received by the community has been really rewarding.”
Black Russian Caravan Bar
Katherine Information Centre
Katherine, Northern Territory
Open 7 days 7am until 1pm
0409 475 115