The Duffield name is synonymous with Hills pubs and tourism ventures. But for Jason Duffield, the man behind The Haus and The Manna, it hasn’t been all beer and skittles. He talks family, pub life and how he battled the Black Dog.
The Duffield family name is about as old as Hahndorf itself. When did the family settle here?
Francis and Alice Duffield arrived at Port Misery, now Port Adelaide, on Christmas Eve in 1839. Francis worked for Osmond Gilles [South Australia’s first colonial treasurer] for four years before he bought 74 acres for 74 quid out the back of Hahndorf, at a spot called Shady Grove. They basically left Yorkshire for their religion. Francis grew up in the Church of England, but he wasn’t happy with some of their doctrines so he started a little Unitarian church which was a lot simpler in its philosophy. Together with the Monk family, they built a church which still stands at Shady Grove.
Wow, great family history!
Yeah! My grandmother’s family were pioneers in the McLaren Vale wine industry too. They started Hope Farm, which went on to become Seaview Wines. A Duffield exported the first case of wine from Australia: a case of hock to Queen Victoria. They ended up pinching him for not having an export licence. In later years, in my grandfather Harry’s time, the Duffields ran the Jacob’s Smallgoods factory in Mount Barker. They lived out the back and that’s where my father Noel grew up. Dad was always very driven; he left school at 13 to work at Jacob’s.
These days, the family is best known for its pubs and tourism ventures. How did that come about?
Dad left Jacob’s to open a butcher shop in Stirling. He’d chat to customers and tip off the local real estate guy Wilf Meyer, who’s my godfather, about anyone who might be looking to sell their house. Wilf would give him a sling and Noel ended up making more money from real estate than the butcher shop, so he went into real estate. A few years later, Dad bought the Hahndorf Inn. He renovated it and [renowned Adelaide Hills restaurateur] Maximilian was head chef. They had German beers on tap. Hahndorf was on the main route from Adelaide to Melbourne in those days, and I guess that was Dad’s first tourism venture.
Where did you grow up?
I started school at St Catherine’s in Stirling and moved to Echunga Primary when Dad bought an old property on 250 acres and set about turning it into a horse stud. He loves his horses – it’s probably his major passion outside business and family.
Sounds like your dad didn’t like sleep!
Yes he’s a go-getter, even at 77. He still does a lot of running around for the business. Mum’s amazing, too. She’s been the rock that’s held it all together, to be honest.
I have two sisters, Olivia and Kelly, and an older brother Damien, and we grew up on this beautiful property. I was into sport and started playing footy at Echunga in 1979 and didn’t leave until we bought the German Arms in 1990, when I started playing for Hahndorf. We played under a great coach in Richard Hill, had a fantastic team and we played in a lot of grand finals.
How did you get involved in the family business?
When I left school, a mate got me a job in an advertising agency in the city and over four years I worked my way up to become an account manager. My uncle Robin, who I’m still very close to, owned the German Arms in those days and he was ready to retire. Dad was still in business with Wilf and they owned the old wool stores down in Port Adelaide. Dad got to thinking, and had an architect draw up some plans to renovate the German Arms with beautiful centuries-old timbers from the wool stores. Then he called a family pow-wow with my brother and I, and he gave us two weeks to think about whether we’d like to move to Hahndorf to run the pub. I was 20 and I didn’t need to think about it for very long! It was a baptism of fire, but we’ve been fortunate over the years to work with great mentors, real old-school guys.
You must have had some fun…
It was hard work but fun, too. We’d work late Friday night, open up on Saturday morning and work right up until game time and then race off to play footy in the A Grade. Then we’d race back to work until the pub closed. There was an iconic disco in Hahndorf in those days called GG’s Speakeasy. We’d close the German Arms at 2am and GG’s Speakeasy would shut at 2.30, so my brother and I would lock up and take a few six packs and hide them in the planter boxes along the way. When GG’s Speakeasy shut and no one had a drink, we’d be walking back to the German Arms and magically pull out West End draught cans and we were a bit like gods. Of course we’d kick on until the wee hours. Then we’d be back at work, first thing again on Sunday. To be honest I’m glad I’m through it all now. I drink very little these days.
Was that a conscious decision?
Very much so. With alcohol, like everything in life, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. For the great high and camaraderie when you’re out having a great night, there’s a price the next day. I made a conscious decision to cut back and start looking after my physical and mental health.
I heard that you even do yoga these days?
I practise yoga a bit and do the odd class. My wife wanted to be a yoga instructor and we thought she was pregnant, so we hastily booked to do a yoga course. After playing footy for 20 years, I wasn’t the most flexible bloke around, but I passed the course and became a qualified instructor.
Is it good for the calm you’re seeking?
Yoga is really just stretching and breathing. It’s not about being able to touch your toes; it’s what you learn on the way down. It brings a little bit of stillness but it’s more about being flexible and fit. Work is so full-on that I’ve got to be on the ball.
Yes, there’s been an explosion of new Duffield tourism offerings in recent years, including The Manna of Hahndorf accommodation and The Haus café and bar. What drove all that?
Opportunity, in many ways. In the mid-2000s we sold the Hahndorf Inn but still had the Hotel Elliot. We took a little run-down pub and turned it around. My sister Olivia, who’s brilliant in hospitality, came down to work with me, too. When we sold the Hahndorf Inn, we kept the motel out back. One thing led to another and we developed that into The Manna accommodation with 50 rooms. Then Dad decided we needed a restaurant to cater for our hotel guests. So we bought Muggletons across the road, which funnily enough had once been GG’s Speakeasy disco, and developed it into The Haus.
The first few years were pretty tough. Dad wanted to open before Easter which I wish in hindsight we hadn’t done. I’d just come off summer in Port Elliot and had 12 weeks to do everything – naming, logo, interiors, fit out, building a team of chefs, uniforms, cutlery, crockery. Eventually I hit a wall. I got quite sick, which not many people know about. My immune system shut down and I had very dark clouds overhead – I didn’t leave my room over at The Manna for about five days.
I’m so sorry about that. Sounds like your body just went ‘Mate, we’re not doing this anymore’. What brought you out of it?
Support. I didn’t have huge amounts of time to recover, but talking about it was one of the main things. Seeing a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel was important, but really looking after myself was the key. I never want to go back to that dark place again, so I changed my diet and my attitude.
Did you have a counsellor?
There was a chap I’d come to know quite well, who owns a health retreat in Port Elliot called Authenticity. I did some counselling with him on a combination of physical health and mental health, nurturing yourself and getting plenty of fresh air, rest and sunshine. We’re way too over-stimulated these days. I also still do a lot of work with Morgan Young at The Strength & Movement Clinic SA, and he’s been instrumental in turning around my physical health.
I wanted to ask about your role as chairman of the Hahndorf Business & Tourism Association – what’s your vision for the town?
It’s nice to be in a position where I can make a positive impact with things like street beautification, the right marketing and attracting the right operators. Hahndorf is such a unique town when it comes to offering artisan products, and it just keeps getting better.
The streetscape is important to me: plants and flowers. Parts of the footpath have been slightly neglected – Stirling does it a whole lot better. We could bring more art and sculptures into Main Street.
I lived in a medieval village in Germany a few years back, not dissimilar to Hahndorf, and the quality of their signage was amazing – they’re a lot stricter. We’re working on an entrance statement for the town, too.
So what’s next for you?
I’d like to think I could extract myself from the family business one day. Maybe a health retreat by the ocean… At this stage, though, it’s probably about taking time. We’ve appointed a general manager, which takes away a lot of the burden of running five businesses with over 80 staff. I have two days off a week now and I’m enjoying that – although initially I struggled with all the time off.
What, you mean like a normal weekend for the rest of us mortals!? Your wife must like having you at home more.
We’re actually not together at the moment. We met at Port Elliot and it was a whirlwind, beautiful romance. We were married within three months and she changed a lot in my life, made me realise I was working too much. Plus I wanted to have kids and she didn’t.
Yeah but it’s still beautiful. I came into her life for a reason and she came into mine for a reason. I wouldn’t be as happy and healthy if I hadn’t met her. We still catch up all the time. It was meant to be, in a strange sort of way. And I haven’t given up on having kids.
Marzena helped me to realise that you can’t let work define you. I’m back living in Port Elliot. I love the ocean. Most days I go for a swim, or I take a bike ride along the foreshore.
I feel older and wiser, not so high about the highs but not so worried about the lows, either. I’m in the right place.
If you could ask Jason Duffield a question what would it be? Let us know in the comments below.