How To Start A Successful Business: The Mussel Inn - a “phenomenal” creation.
Updated: Jun 16, 2021
When truly magical people show up in our lives, we must sit up and pay attention. That is how I felt as I listened to Jane Dixon recounting the story of the phenomenal creation of iconic Golden Bay institution, The Mussel Inn. I say phenomenal in the true sense that it is a phenomenon, not because The Mussel Inn is a hubbub of fantastic, international musical acts, LIVE poets, Quiz Nights, good locally grown, organic food and a producer of a much sought after artisanal beer, although it is all these. No, The Mussel Inn as it exists currently is a phenomenon because in an age where we are all told to set S.M.A.R.T. goals, create through focused intention, and work it, work it, work it, The Mussel Inn is a miracle because it has all happened incidentally. Not accidently. Incidentally. Read on to hear the story...
A PERFECT "MARRIAGE" OF PEOPLE, PASSION & INTERESTS
The Mussel Inn story started 26 years ago in 1992 ten years after Jane Dixon and her husband, Andrew, made the decision to live in Golden Bay, New Zealand. With few employment opportunities in such a small community, they needed to find something to do to employ themselves.
The pair were involved in a music festival down south where they would help with catering and they ran log building courses all over the country which Jane did the catering for. So Jane was used to cooking for large numbers and music is a big part of who they are. Hence, they decided to create the sort of kid-friendly place they themselves would like to come to with their friends and family, hear music, and have a coffee or a beer. Lucky for them they were on the cusp of licensing laws changing, at which time there were the old school pubs, the tearooms and The Wholemeal Cafe. A Golden Bay icon in its own right, this restaurant, converted from a theatre, didn’t have a license and instead was a BYOB.
They eventually found the land on which the current inn and brewery are now located. Back then, there was only a shed which they lived in for ten years until they finished building a beautiful log house of their own.
It was a very organic process. They liked music so they had musicians come and play. They wanted nice food, so they catered good food. They wanted a family space, because they had children. They wanted to be able to share a beer with friends, so they got a license…..
And the people came...and they still come today.
When I went to write this blog, I had heard that Jane and Andrew receive emails from all over the world from musicians who want to play at The Mussel Inn. But they do no advertising and never have. I asked Jane how that could possibly happen.
“The audiences in The Bay are great.” she said. “And we actually host the musicians in our home so they don’t have to play and then pack up all their instruments and leave that same night. They feel relaxed and at home.”
All good. But my question remained, how did they even find out?
“Well,” explains Jane, “originally we had The Gypsy Pickers and Jane Venice who were local and played quite often. But in fact, I have no idea how people found out. It just happened. And remember this was back in the day when people would send a cassette tape and description of what they do, and then they would listen to that and it would take months of to and fro. And now with FB and Youtube we can organize a gig in a very short time.”
The answer doesn’t really explain anything, but then some things just can’t be easily explained. Some things are just magic.
Jane and Andrew wanted to do more than have a pub/restaurant/musical venue. They are highly conscious and aware of the need for sustainability in our world. It’s part of who they are.
What makes The Mussel Inn, ecologically sustainable more so than a regular pub?
Part of sustainability means using recycled and locally sourced materials. Right from the start The Mussel Inn was built from salvaged materials. The iron on the outside is from the old shed. The doors and windows are second hand from Del Lorenzo’s house on Trafalgar Street in Nelson, an iconic house at the time. Bricks on the fireplace are from the kiln at the old cement works. The outside bricks are from Omaru. The wood on the tabletops is from studs of the old place. All the timber lining the building is from Bainham cut by a local farmer, who was milling marcrocarpa - so very short travel miles on that. They had to add fire retardant unfortunately so it’s not all eco. All the chairs in the room were made locally and so were the outside chairs and tables. So very few miles on the build.
As Jane explained, “That’s just us and who we are. We don’t think imported is better, better made or more classy necessarily. The grass is not always greener. In Germany they rave about New Zealand hops but they have hops there.” She shakes her head and smiles indulgently as if to say “Poor wee ones, don’t know what they don’t know.”
Other eco-features at The Mussel include composting toilets. Originally they had flushing toilets, but the soil is “ Pakihi ” soil meaning it has an impervious layer of iron pan beneath the surface so it couldn’t cope with the amount of water going through it. They also wanted to save water and flushing it down the “loo” is such a waste of good water. It wasn’t possible to find what they needed, so Andrew designed the toilets and had them built. Others like Jester House in Tasman also have composting toilets.
It’s possible to install composting toilets these days. You just have to write the proposal using the right wording, but often people can’t work out how to do it or can’t be bothered dealing with the hoops of red tape. "It’s just what we do and I think you have to be actually quite dedicated. It’s not the easy life if that’s what you want.” says Jane.
How complicated is it to get permission for a composting toilet? “You have to get an engineering report, but the water disposal we were going to have to deal with was actually going to be far more complicated.”
THE BREWERY STORY
The cafe was up and running in 1992, and by 1995 they started brewing their own beer. And once they had their own beer, that’s all people wanted.
“At first we had 35 beers from all around the country. Many of them craft brews of which there were way less than there are now. It wasn’t a thing in those days. You know beer is 99% water so to buy beer from outside the Bay meant transporting water into the Bay and we have lots of very good water here. It also means we employ three more local people and employing local people is part of our ethic.”
So now the beer doesn’t have to travel to get there and since it’s the only beer on offer, ordering and stocking is pure simplicity. But ironically, now they are exporting the beer out of the Bay and have been for the last 12 years. How come? For many years they didn’t for the same reasons that they didn’t want to import, but there was so much pressure from people asking to sell their beer. It started with Nelson and now you can get it in various places around the country. These days punters are going to bars asking for a “Mussel Inn”...no wonder it’s a well known spot.
The Art of "Incidental" Business
Keep in mind though that becoming exporters of a popular beverage was never the plan. This success was just the “incidental” consequence of having an idea of making some local beer to be more sustainable and took off from there. Just like the cafe and music venue started as a way to have a business and lifestyle that worked for them and not necessarily to create a hugely popular (and profitable) venture.
Incidental success seems to be what happens when our businesses or ventures align with our values and the way we want to live our lives.
I asked Jane what she attributed their success to.
“We’ve always been thorough, but also because it’s really real. we didn’t choose to do it because 'we REALLY believe it’ like a forced thing. It was just what we believed. I think if people are genuine, then it works. We have always been cautious financially...basically we built the place for us and our friends and back in the day, we got a mortgage we knew we could afford to pay on the dole in case it didn’t work out and we had to fall back on it."
"People overextend themselves borrowing money and they try to create something that’s not quite them, and they try to become what they’re trying to create."
“Whatever you guys put your hands to just seems to be successful without that big goal. Whereas what we’re being taught these days is “have the vision, focus on it, manifest it” What do you have to say about that.” I asked hopefully.
"I'm very wary of having goals and long term goals and yes it’s said that if you have the goals then you’re more likely to achieve them. You’ve still got to be really open to everything. You know I've got children and you never know when they might be sick or anything could happen and you just have to be ready for it. So you can have a long term goal out there, but you can’t really expect to necessarily get there and also you don’t want to cut off other opportunities that might arise.”
“You guys didn’t even have a goal. You didn't set out to be the most desirable music venue in Golden Bay or to have a craft beer exporting all over New Zealand. It’s almost like it happened without you wanting it to.”
“Yeah that’s it.” she says simply.
“What are you holding inside?” I asked with baited breath thinking there is something bigger here.
“We are positive people and we are two people where one and one makes more than two.
It’s not always easy by any means, but somehow that’s the case the for us. I believe that everything will work out okay one way or another.”
Prior to writing this, I had heard my brother express a similar sentiment of faith that it will all work out somehow. I notice that so many of us, myself included, often fear that nothing will work out or that it won’t happen whatever it is. So a huge lesson here for me and hopefully for you too, that staying true to ourselves and our values in our work, combined with faith that "it will all work out", seems to make it so.
We’ll be visiting The Mussel Inn and meeting Jane and Andrew as part of our Golden Bay Sustainable Living Course. We’ll also be teaching how to align our business, work and values into a sustainable business for ourselves and our planet. Check out the course here.
Please like or comment on this blog on our Facebook page. How do your values align with your work?