Darren Haunold is an unbridled enthusiast. About everything. Get him talking about Wills Domain and frankly, you can’t shut him up. He could talk for Australia.
But then Darren has a lot to talk about. He and his family have created one of the finest restaurants in the country from sheer hard work and diligence. Because that’s all they had. The Haunold family’s background in hospitality is tangential at best – his parents created a highly successful industrial catering company servicing mining camps in remote WA, which is about as far removed from fine dining as you can get.
“We’re a family of hard workers. My grandparents came from Austria with nothing and built up some successful businesses in WA. My father was the same and now my generation of Haunolds have taken over the reins,” Haunold said.
“This is a family business. We would not be as successful as we are without the incredible hard work of my sister Kristin (Wilson) and my wife Suzanne (Strapp).”
“We learnt a lot from the mining camps. We gutted kitchens and got the best equipment, we used the best food we could afford, we treated our customers with respect. They felt valued, and these are the lessons we learnt about dining at any level. Whether you’re serving meals in remote mining camps or in Margaret River wineries, quality and respect for customers is a universal concept.
“You have to remember too, we are a family of immigrants. Much of our time was spent around the table like many Europeans families. We’d sing songs and get the get the guitar out. It’s those sorts of warm, family experiences that you never forget, and which has informed our views on hospitality and what real hospitality means,” the 42-year-old Managing Director said.
Haunold gives much of the credit for Wills’ success to Seth James, a highly talented former Melbourne chef – with experience in the Andrew McConnell portfolio of restaurants including the renowned Cumulus Inc. – who runs the kitchen at the winery.
Importing a high-profile Melbourne chef is a risk that Haunold says he had to take.
“I don’t think I had any choice. There’s a massive skills shortage in Western Australia. I saw the same top chefs being shuffled around in the Margaret River region, so we needed a fresh approach,” he said.
Haunold admits it was a brave move to bank the farm on a Melbourne chef. There’s always the risk that he might miss his hometown or fly the coup for any number of reasons. But it has worked. James has been manning the pass since August 2014 and Wills Domain’s culinary offering has been improving year-on-year.
“Seth and I are a great team. We both get why we need each other and how to work together effectively. There has to be this healthy co-existence. You have to be on the same page and Seth is. He gets what we’re doing here,” Haunold said.
Wills Domain has won accolades from far and wide in recent years. It was The West Australian Good Food Guide’s Regional Restaurant Of The Year last year and now caps off that achievement by winning Restaurant Of The Year in 2018, an even more significant achievement when you consider the calibre of restaurants at the top of their game in WA.
Is Haunold surprised by his success?
“Yes and no. If you saw the hours that our kitchen puts into their product, you’d be amazed,” he said.
“Success is all about hard work and good decisions, and if you saw the hours Seth puts in you would be staggered by his work ethic. He’s the hardest working chef I’ve ever seen. Seth has put every minute of the four years he’s spent here contributing to the business and building a great team.”
Family. Excellence. Hard Work. It’s the winning recipe for Wills Domain, the 2018 The West Australian Good Food Guide Restaurant Of The Year.