Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 6/21/16
The last time you saw a ’60s-style trailer, you were probably getting ready to be packed in with your gaggle of loud siblings, on your way to yet another campsite with your parents for a weekend of mosquito bites and overcooked hot dogs.
Today, if you happen to see one of these trailers driving on the Parkway, you may have just spotted the Cocktail Caravan, a mobile, fully staffed bar that brings everything hosts need, with alcohol provided by hosts, to keep guests’ thirst quenched at an outdoor event or party.
Modeled after a 1960’s travel trailer, Cocktail Caravan’s design features a sleek, round outer shape with a traditional wooden bar ledge, pop-out windows, two keg taps, ice sinks for beverage storage and service, a seated bench and rustic décor. The bar travels with additional features to complete a rustic-chic look including wine barrel tables, bar stools and vintage lighting.
Cocktail Caravan, which officially opened for business on Thursday, June 16, is the product of Ashley and Amanda Willis, Middletown sisters with a passion for food, drink and entertaining who started a blog, thesisterssoiree.com, in 2013 which now boasts 5,000 readers.
“When we started this blog, it was strictly a blog – we talked about everything from food to cocktails to table settings, which eventually turned into a small catering and bartending business,” said Ashley. “We documented the parties we put on for our own friends and family, sharing our drink menus and recipes.”
The sisters’ mother, Holli, inspired their love of party planning. Ashley described her mom as “the real hostess with the most-est,” who would always throw the most extravagant parties with the best food and drinks.
“We grew up like that and we saw what a party can do for the people in your life,” Ashley. said. “It’s so relaxing and it’s a safe space where everyone can catch up and talk. Instead of going to the mall, everyone would come to our house to hang out and we would all eat together.”
This love of food and drinks also inspired the sisters to seek jobs in the service industry when it was time for them to get part-time jobs. Ashley worked at Ruby Tuesday throughout college and Dish of Red Bank for three years before starting in the public relations field, and Amanda worked at Dish for eight years, eventually cooking and managing.
When Amanda went to Ashley with her idea for the caravan, the sisters took two years to create a business plan, making sure they had a market and customers for their mobile platform.. They partnered with Neptune’s Archer Construction in 2015, who “understood our vision and the look and feel we were going for,” said Ashley.
Archer Construction, one of the few companies that didn’t turn the sisters’ idea away, built the caravan from the ground up in eight months. Beforehand, they looked at some campers that they could revamp, but they found that modern caravans lacked the large windows they needed.
“We didn’t want it to look like a food truck or have a boxy feel,” said Ashley. “We found that the ‘60s caravans were clean and interesting with their round shapes and big windows.”
For $250 an hour, hosts of weddings, corporate events and other parties can book the Cocktail Caravan, which includes Ashley and Amanda to staff the bar, cups, wine barrel tables, flowers, water carts, bar tools, mixers and a custom cocktail menu to serve up to 120 people. Party hosts must provide the alcohol.
The Cocktail Caravan can serve up to 200 people for an additional fee, since additional bartenders would be needed.
This summer, as the Cocktail Caravan gets off the ground, the sisters want to introduce themselves to the community and partner with outdoor venues in Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties. But the Caravan is open to servicing any party in New Jersey.
“We saw an opportunity to change the bar scene at some of these outdoor weddings or corporate parties,” Ashley said. “An outdoor party doesn’t have to have a boring bar setup.”
For more information on the Cocktail Caravan, visit cocktailcaravanbar.com.