A bartender stands behind the bar pouring two glasses of wine at Puffin, a chic winebar in Te Aro, Wellington.

Puffin wine bar owner Hannah Wells pours wine behind the bar.

Wellington wine bar Puffin opened in August 2019, with a focus on highlighting organic, biodynamic, and minimalist intervention wines. With such a specialist offering, owner Hannah Wells set about building an expert team. Together, they aim to turn Puffin into a must-see Wellington wine destination. 

In the often-challenging hospitality industry, Hannah prioritises keeping her staff supported and passionate about their work. “I think it’s also really important to have a good relationship with your employees and understand what you can and can’t do for them as an employer,” she says. 

“Hospitality has quite a high turnover of staff just because there’s a lot of part-time roles. I wanted to build a team where people are coming into work to be part of something bigger. It’s not just a job but a career.” 

Hannah looked to external support networks to help retain her staff. She engaged culture experts Humankind to look at improving training and induction processes. 

Hannah’s goal is to make sure the team feels supported to grow and develop. “There’s always more to learn — it’s very easy to rest on what you already know about the industry. In building our team I want people who not only know about natural wine but are passionate about continuing their learning of it.” 

“I want it to be not just a job for them but they’re coming to work to contribute to something bigger.”

Hannah Wells, owner of Puffin

Because of Puffin’s focus on organic and biodynamic wines, every team member has specialist knowledge and a passion for the product that is difficult to replace. 

Tommy Hatchard-McGill says Puffin is a special place to work with plenty of atmosphere and interesting clientele. He started as a bartender, which allowed him to get a feel for the ethos and environment of Puffin. He quickly became the venue manager. 

“The work environment and quality have helped to hold up my faith in an often-fickle industry,” he says. “I’ve felt extremely supported and given a platform from which I can improve myself. I can continue to provide an immersive, intriguing, and enjoyable experience for everyone who comes through our doors.” 

Puffin’s focus on organic and biodynamic wines harks back to when Hannah worked at a previous bar. She cut her teeth curating short lists of interesting wines that were well received. Visits to wine bars and festivals overseas also inspired her. 

“At the time, these bars had lists that focused on smaller producers. They used organic and biodynamic practices and had small plates of food that went with the wine,” she says. “The bars had an energy that was all about sharing the love of wine and food with people.” 

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Hannah wanted to build a space that supported and celebrated that ethos. She says Puffin is a departure from the usual. “It’s important that we have a balance of things. Wines that are familiar to help people feel comfortable and wines that are different so people can experience something new.” 

As much as Puffin came about because of the wines, Hannah says it has continued, thrived and evolved because of the staff. “The enthusiasm staff like Tommy have for bringing delicious things to people and hosting them in the space has been transformative. 

“For me, it’s important they’re supported in their professional growth and allowed the space to figure out what direction they want to take. There’s space for everyone’s opinion to be heard.” 

It’s a recipe that is bringing Hannah — and Puffin — continued success.