Lil Milk Bar in Mawson is like the children’s classic book, The Little Engine that Could. With optimism and hard work, its owners are striving to a seemingly impossible task: staying open!
Launching a small café in Canberra is challenging enough, but Lil Milk Bar had to first overcome the summer heatwave and bushfire season that covered the city in smoke and saw everyone shelter at home for weeks on end, and then came the challenge of COVID-19 and all of its the accompanying restrictions.
Owner Linh Tran teams her quiet, humble grit and determination to turn a dream of owning a successful café of her own with a love of food and a knack for infusing flavours.
Originally from Vietnam, Linh says she’s “basically a home cook”.
“I’ve learned mostly from my mother and grandmother. I love to eat Vietnamese food, fruits and fresh salads,” she explains.
“After two years of baking macarons for my business ‘Lil Macarons’ for cafes around Canberra, I thought I wanted to open a shop for myself. I had dreamt of a small place with a blue door. We then had breakfast in Mawson and had a look around and found this place we are in now. The blue door got me.”
As for the name, it stems from the ethos of the business, Linh says.
“I want to sell homemade products. Homemade to me equals rustic, simple, fresh and good quality because everything is made with a small amount. That is the meaning of ‘Lil’, while ‘Milk Bar’ is more likely to be a ‘Mum and Pop’ small business. So, the concept behind ‘Lil Milk Bar’ is simple, small, home food with a Vietnamese twist that is refined, healthy and community-based.”
Linh and her team deliver it all with a smile as well. From the first time I walked in and every other time since I have been warmly welcomed into the small intimate space. They took the effort to learn my name, have a chat, and as I sat eating my various solo lunches there, I saw they did the same with everyone who walked in.
Sitting there, I felt the sense of community they were building and felt part of it. But it is not just a cosy atmosphere Lil Milk Bar has to offer, the food and especially the Vietnamese-inspired dishes kept me coming back week after week.
“The menu on offer is ever-evolving as we figure out customers’ preferences and adapt to the ever-changing environment. Opening a new cafe, you worry if customers are going to like what you have to offer. When you have Mother Nature taking its course, you must think on your feet and fast.
“Things needed to change weekly, often daily during the bushfires. Now there is COVID-19, which has hit us hard. With only take away, we mostly sell bacon and egg rolls and pastries now. We also partner with No Biggie to make meal packs for pick up every Wednesday. With a lot of unknowns, it is hard to judge what the future holds. We think takeaway will be a big part of the next few stages of our business.”
Lil Milk Bar is located at 9B/22 Mawson Place, Mawson, and is open 7 days a week from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm.