Duke of Marlborough Hotel owners (from left) Anton Haagh,
Bridget Haagh, Riki Kinnaird and Jayne Shirley. Photo by
When Jayne Shirley found herself polishing glasses on New
Year's Eve, she made the comment to her husband, ''What have we
She and Riki Kinnaird, who both grew up in Dunedin, gave up
the corporate world in London in 2010 to own and operate the
Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, Bay of Islands, with
their friends and fellow University of Otago graduates Anton
and Bridget Haagh.
''Honestly, people thought we'd gone nuts. My parents were
like, 'You want to do what?'' Ms Shirley recalled.
Looking back, it was a ''massive'' gamble - ''but we'd do it
all again'', she said.
''The Duke'', as it is known, has been named as a finalist in
three categories in Hospitality New Zealand's excellence
awards - for best country hotel (which it won last year),
best redeveloped hotel and best accommodation hotel.
The winners will be announced in Queenstown on September 26.
The opportunity to buy the Duke was spotted by Mr Haagh, who
contacted friends in London. He and Mr Kinnaird had talked
about being in business back in their university days.
After much ''soul-searching'', Mr Kinnaird and Ms Shirley
gave up their jobs - she was HR manager for a large Spanish
bank and he was chief executive of a telecommunications
company - and returned to New Zealand for the challenge of
''turning around a sinking business''.
Mr and Mrs Haagh did the same, giving up their Auckland jobs
and moving north.
Fast-forward three years, and the Duke has been restored to
its former glory and the two couples are very excited to have
been recognised in the hospitality awards.
Ms Shirley said they acknowledged at the start the project
could ruin relationships and friendships, but they had all
managed to find niches for themselves and it had ''all worked
Their families have also grown - the Haaghs welcomed baby Tom
three months ago, a brother for 5-year-old Stella - and Mr
Kinnaird and Ms Shirley have a 6-month-old daughter, Amelia.
The Duke of Marlborough is steeped in history, dating back to
1827, when it was known as Johnny Johnston's Grog Shop.
Ex-convict Johnny Johnston bought the freehold site of the
Duke and he quickly changed the name to the Duke of
Marlborough. He gained the first liquor licence in New
Many changes of ownership followed for the hotel, which Ms
Shirley described as ''quite an icon'' for both Russell and
the Bay of Islands.
The 25-bedroom hotel on the waterfront had an ''absolutely
amazing outlook''. Both her husband and the Haaghs had both
spent time there in the summer holidays and saw ''so much
potential'' for the business.
Much effort and work had gone into redeveloping the hotel,
including replacing the leaking 60-year-old roof.
Business was going well and they had gone from hosting 10
weddings a year to 30, she said.
They tried to keep the business ''quite fun and casual'' and
both she and Mrs Haagh referred to themselves as ''The
''The standard is really high but we don't want to turn into
a corporate hotel. Fun dining rather than fine dining.''
Being recognised in the hospitality awards was like
''external validation'' for their hard work, she said.
''We spend a lot of time talking about what we could do
better and what we haven't done quite right.
''It's nice after three and a-half years to say we have done
something right. This business is a success not just because
we think it is,'' she said.
A key factor in the hotel's success had been the support from
the community which had been ''just phenomenal''.
''We feel like we're the custodians. It's a pretty cool story
... we're just adding another chapter.
''We're only here for our time and then somebody else will
hopefully take it up and make it even better.''
In the meantime, she said she is looking forward to donning
''the glad rags'' for the hospitality awards.
''There's no call for high heels up here in Russell,'' she