I wish someone had told me that… Danny Crichton, Lucky Bat Cafe & Pizzeria

I wish someone had told me that… Danny Crichton, Lucky Bat Cafe & Pizzeria

A mutual love of art, food and all things pickled inspired Lucky Bat co-owners Danny Crichton and Justin Schmidt to create an iconic Darwin eatery that's become a hit with the locals.

This is the third instalment of Propsa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, where we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Read other stories here.  

It all started with…

A wood oven. Justin (pictured right, below) and I built it together on our weekends as a project, and we spent the time bonding and making plans to create a cafe and creative space.

The wood oven is the heart of Lucky Bat Café & Pizzeria. We cook all of our food in it – pizzas, breads, pastries and share plates – which gives it a signature flavour.

The cafe was formed in 2016. It started out really small and grew over time. We wanted to design a creative hub that showcased all of our interests. We’ve always had local art displayed on our walls and tried to bring in lots of different events – music, fashion, clothes swaps, uni meets, etc.

I wish someone had told me that… Danny Crichton, Lucky Bat Cafe & Pizzeria

Image: Danny (left) and Justin (right)

Building a successful business requires…

Research and passion. We spent a lot of time scoping out venues and trying to find the right spot. We chose a place in Nightcliff, the most heavily populated suburb in Darwin. There are lots of young professionals and families here with disposable income to spend on coffee and going out to eat, and who are also interested in art and culture.

The spot we chose is next to the community library, where there’s always plenty of people walking by. We visited all the different businesses in the area to see what they were up to, so we knew what we were offering was unique.

We had around 1,000 followers on Instagram before we even opened our doors.” – Danny Crichton

What’s helped us become so successful is that the business is built around our passions. We’re both artists by trade – I’m a graphic designer and Justin is a visual artist – so I do a lot of brand design, and Justin does installations with projection technology and robots. We’re also passionate about the food, coffee and drinks we serve – and pickling things!

I wish someone had told me that… Danny Crichton, Lucky Bat Cafe & Pizzeria

Image: House-made bruschetta with a pickled twist

We expanded our business through…

Lots of trialling. We knew from the outset that we were going to put in a bar to complement the music nights we wanted to host, but we didn’t want to do it blindly. So, we introduced BYO wood-fired pizza nights on Fridays and Saturdays as a trial to see if people liked it and enjoyed having a wine in the space. Once we were confident it was going to work, we applied for a liquor license, built the bar and decked out the sound stage.

I wish someone had told me that…

It’s not as easy as it looks. From the outside looking in, hospitality seems like a pretty cool job but there are so many different aspects to running a small business. You’re managing people, wages, balancing books and ordering ingredients – so you really need to dedicate yourself to it, especially at the start.

I wish someone had told me that… Danny Crichton, Lucky Bat Cafe & Pizzeria

Image: Lucky Bat by night

We built our brand by…

Creating a buzz. A year before we opened, we documented the building of the wood oven for social media. My partner, who is also a graphic designer, and I created the logo and branding. We started selling t-shirts that were hand screen-printed, so people knew about us. We had around 1,000 followers on Instagram before we even opened our doors.

It’s also really important to talk to people. When we were building the space, people walking by from the library would poke their heads in. We chatted to them and told them what we were planning, so there was quite a bit of word-of-mouth advertising from the beginning.

Good small business marketing means…

Coming up with different ideas that interest people and are marketable. We’ve just started up our own microbrewery, Nightcliff Brewing Co, with brewer Ryan Lucas.

Justin is really into distilling and there’s a big interest in craft beer in the area, so it’s a win-win. I’ve been designing the beer labels and t-shirts, and we’re going to host an Oktoberfest event as a launch with home-brewed German beers and sauerkraut that I’ll pickle.

Community engagement is another big thing. Justin goes to the local school and makes coffees for all the parents with our spare coffee machine, which is great advertising. We’ve also had school kids put on exhibitions at the cafe and all their families come in. We’ve developed a real community connection through doing those little things. It’s helpful to put yourself out there.

I wish someone had told me that… Danny Crichton, Lucky Bat Cafe & Pizzeria

Image: a live music night at Lucky Bat Cafe

We got through COVID-19 by…

Changing things up. We set up a satellite cafe at the Royal Darwin Hospital in response to COVID-19 to cater to doctors and other hospital staff. We had two full-time staff out there manning the coffee cart, which meant we could keep them hired throughout COVID-19.

We did a full revamp of our website, so now our online ordering works really well. People are able to pay online and come and pick up their food – that’s a service we’re still offering.

We also managed most of our deliveries in-house. We bought two electric bikes so we could deliver pizzas in the local area. We were already thinking of doing all of these things, but COVID-19 just gave us that extra push.

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