The Love Your Local Awards, presented by Pure South, celebrate the hospitality people and places that bring life and personality to our neighbourhoods. Go to stuff.co.nz/loveyourlocal to nominate your most-loved local and give them a chance to win.
When it comes to Northland’s top hospitality spots, it would be hard to go past Russell hotel, restaurant and bar, The Duke of Marlborough.
One of the oldest hotels in Aotearoa and the first pub to get a New Zealand liquor licence in 1840, The Duke, as it is affectionately known, is steeped in history.
But co-owner Riki Kinnaird said the landmark hotel was unloved and almost falling down when he, his wife Jayne Shirley, and friends Anton and Bridget Haagh bought the business in 2010.
Since then, they heeded the advice of everyone from past owners to local Russellites to make The Duke a thriving business, employing 110 staff in summer.
Having strong cash reserves – or, at least, a bank willing to lend – was also important, Kinnaird said.
The new owners have invested $12 million into the business, including a major expansion so the hotel can have a better economy of scale and a land investment to protect the site’s future, he said.
“We bought a brand that is deep in history and heritage, in a region in New Zealand that’s deep in history and heritage and we also bought a place by the sea …
“When you look overseas they’re worth millions of dollars.”
But Kinnaird said The Duke’s history is about more than just what it was nearly 200 years ago – it is important to allow people to create their own historic moments, such as at weddings or special dinners.
“Our job as a storyteller is not only to showcase what The Duke is and its surrounds, but to create spaces for other people to tell their stories.”
His advice to those starting out in the hospitality industry is to be authentic to your brand and have patience.
“We have local beers, local wines, local fish and lots of authenticity of the brand.”
Kinnaird also advises new business owners to connect with others – such as their local business association – and invest in their local area through sponsorship.
“Talk to your mates around the corner. We’ve got 150 suppliers and we’re mates with them all – through Covid that was hugely important.”
One of The Duke’s greatest achievements was being able to keep permanent staff during Covid-19, helping them upskill by learning about the area’s history.
Kinnaird said the most important thing was for people to take pride in their work and love what they do, with his family making the most of living by the sea in the Far North town.
“The Duke doesn’t make millions, you’ve got to be happy with what you’re doing,” he said.
The Duke owners are now considering expanding The Duke of Marlborough brand to areas outside of Northland.
While Te Tai Tokerau is home, Kinnaird admitted it took more time and expense to do business in Northland than in other regions, in part due to the unreliable road network.
Go to stuff.co.nz/loveyourlocal to nominate your most-loved local and give them a chance to win.