Geoff Mclean had a dream of owning a cafe since he was twenty and when Kafiene, a struggling cafe came on the market it was an opportunity he couldn’t resist. He says he had his rose tinted glasses on but 12 years later Deville café on New Street is thriving and the future looks even brighter as others are starting to realise just how good the location is.
He has a couple of gripes, and as anyone who knows Geoff can testify he is prepared to say what he thinks; “this end of town is also part of the CBD and it’s obvious that most NCC resource and effort ends up on Trafalgar, Bridge and Hardy Streets”. For too many years we seem to have been the forgotten end of town. Some NCC resource in New St would be beneficial, some bike stands would be very useful.”
Despite being in ‘the forgotten end of town’ McLean, his wife Gail and their son Evan have developed a fantastic café dining space with the only large outdoor garden setting in the city, what’s more it is fully fenced making it a favourite place for parents with young children.
McLean says he is thrilled with the community spirit of New St. neighbour Galen King and his vision for the development of Kirby Lane, a retail and commercial space with outdoor seating and a small park is a really exciting development for him and King has invited them to open up onto the new lane way.
“Other parts of town have connections between streets and carparks with various lanes and walkways but we haven’t had anything to link New St with Bridge St so Kirby Lane will be a great connection and we are really looking forward to having some retail space close to us.”
While Kirby Lane is about the future the 12 years he has owned Deville has been a challenging journey and when I asked him one of my favourite questions, why, he told me that was “a bloody good question, owning a café or restaurant can be an easy fantasy to fall into – people think how cool would it be to open a café and we did just that.
“We quickly found that the dream had some pitfalls.”
McLean brought plenty of cooking experience to the café, he started cooking in Texas working in hotel restaurants before he came back to Nelson to raise a family and he joined Trailways with then head chef George Phraser in early 80’s.
“He was a real disciplinarian, really hard-core character but a fantastic chef, ahead of his time.”
McLean says he learned so much on the job at Trailways before moving on to the old Super Value supermarket in the Hardy Mall (now Smith City) where he ran the deli for a year or so before he saw an ad for a job running the new cafeteria at Sealord.
“That move was a real game changer for me, in those days Sealord had about 1200 staff and a brand new amenities building. I arrived before the building was finished so had a say in the layout and equipping the kitchen. It was a great opportunity.
“Those days in the mid 80’s were all about corporate extravagance, lunches, dinners to entertain key customers and suppliers, staff parties, just everything typical of corporate New Zealand at the time and working for them gave me a sense of self belief and provided potential pathways for personal improvement.”
McLean left Sealord after 18 years with a pretty reasonable skill set because he did more than just cook there, he actually ended up working in engineering project management before he took redundancy and went to Alaska to work on a fishing boat, something rated as one of McLean’s “opportunities of a lifetime.”
After Alaska, back in Nelson and unemployed he walked in to a struggling cafe called Kafiene and asked if they wanted to sell, they did and the rest is history.
McLean was joined a year or so later by his son Evan and they set about quietly converting it, “we had a huge amount of energy, not much money and an amazing crew so we did everything ourselves, from concreting the yard to building the bar and decks. We’re still at it today as renovations continue and fortunately most of the same crew are still here.”
To maintain the family style of the business, Evan’s 10 year old son Oscar works there on Sundays and Fridays. We call him “yard boy” because the outdoor area is his to keep clean and tidy, he loves it and it is important to me he has a proper job so when he is working I am his boss not his poppa, he gets a real kick out of it and we love having him around.”
McLean says his son Evan is a major part of the back story. They have complimentary skill sets and share the continuing challenge of evolving and moving the business forward.
“I don’t think every family can work together, but because we are all completely different it works, Gail keeps me on point and grounded because I do get a bit carried away sometimes, she is brutally honest and every business owner needs that.”
Deville has become one of those favourite local places where the staff are like family, most have been friends since early childhood, they all seem to be 40 and “everyone knows far too much about each other” says McLean.
And the future? “The hospitality industry in Nelson is really difficult and for us being off the beaten track makes it a little harder again but there are still people who are discovering us and word of mouth travels!”
But for now McLean loves going to work each day, to enjoy the environment they have created for customers and staff, sitting in the garden area with his standard long black, even on a chilly winter afternoon.
The final word goes to McLean “Nelson is most amazing food bowl, fresh produce, beers, wines, cheese, olive oil, and many other things, we like to keep it local and think we are lucky to live here, it is too easy to take it all for granted.”
Deville is open 7 days a week 8am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, 9am to 3pm Sunday and in the summer months they are open for dinner a few nights of the week and have live music on the deck. Deville can also be hired out as a venue for those special occasions.