Hervey Allen - Durban Icon

It was sometime back in the early 2000’s that I originally met Hervey.
We ran in the same circles.. Hung out in the same places.

The BBB days where Baroque décor had a date with Absinthe on a Friday evening.
The days when the DDC was still a thing, and Saturdays meant 330, being briefly in love with everyone thanks to the help of a few doves and a well known car brand, and breathing in the rarefied Tiger Balm air of the VIP bar.

It was hedonism at it’s finest, and we lived life like there was no tomorrow.
The Peter Pan’s and Wendy’s…Determined never to grow up, and never to face the responsibilities faced by our parents.
Of course cliché’s are not cliché’s for nothing, and nothing good lasts forever..

And so we do grow up, and we do become responsible, (or at the very least a little more responsible than we were)

I wonder if, when Hervey purchased Marriott Garden Liquors all those years ago in 2001 he realized just how much part he would become of the “Durban fabric”.
An “institution” without whom the bohemian culture of our city would be far poorer.

We chat with Hervey Allen, owner of the legendary Marriott Garden Liquors, about his personal journey, his incredible resilience and tenacity, and 20 years in business.
An inspiring story about survival in the current economic climate and how innovating can save the day!

Have we always not been living on a knifes edge  in this part of the world – it is the energy we know as South Africans and makes us persevere – maybe in my  youth my  outlook was blinded from the reality of it all and I never knew anything different.

I remember sitting on the steps of The Agricultural faculty at UKZN in my final year and looking at two of my compatriots and asking them ” So what happens now that we have finished our degree “
None of us were any the wiser of the journey that we would go on to follow.
A stint in national service and then several years in the KwaZulu Department of Agriculture followed – running the animal husbandry section at Cwaka Agricultural college , Research projects at Makhatini research station then onto farm planning of the trust farms and eventually poultry projects with rural woman’s groups all over the province.

Administrational duties slowly took over and the few escapes to diving Sodwana, camping on the Mkakatini floodplain amongst 1000s of white faced whistling ducks or sneaking off to do a cattle survey near Kosi mouth became fewer and fewer.

Eventually, tired of living a 9 – 5 bureaucratic existence myself and our agronomist bonded our houses to the tilt, I cashed in my pension and purchased Duzi motors in Pietermaritzburg.

Until it could support two families I ran it 12 days out of 14 days 12 hours a day for that first year – it was exhausting.
There were floods on our first Boxing day that we owned it – the station was flooded by knee high mud, a dead baby was stranded in the nearby fencing.
I remember spending the day hosing down the forecourt and some ND sightseer thought it would be a great idea to test drive his 4 X 4 in our closed forecourt – parts of humanity have always sucked.
Fast forward five good years – as well as a scattering of some bad incidents – you know the usual – safe thefts, hold ups, bank managers and the smell of petrol. I learnt to hate it – when the tanker off loaded fuel my office was next to the coupling pipe and if I didn’t leave, I would be dizzy seeing white lights. Give me the smells of nature – offal, silage, manure and Billy goats – petrol is so dam toxic.

My marital status changed  – a offer was made to purchase the petrol station and I left for Durban in 2001 in search of a new business with not much liquidity. The Musgrave Morningside area seemed a great place to settle – it was well maintained and close to the sea which has always been a drawcard for me.
The value of my investment was limited and after scouring the area from Westville to Glenwood and Morningside 5 months  I stumbled upon Marriott Gardens. It had been owned less than a year by its owner and he wanted out – that should have been a warning sign!

What limited figures I had on hand were discussed with a small group of people that had knowledge of the beverage industry and I took a leap of faith and  a deal was brokered with an offer to purchase made just before the world changed with the September 11 bombings of the world Trade Centre.
On the 15 October 2001 I took over Marriott Gardens with the sum total of R60 000 stock – just when the world’s economy took a turn for the worse.

In retrospect I should have sunk but with no safety net I dug in . Again another hold up, this time a staff member was complicit so I started running the show on my own.

The wine industry is small personal and family orientated in this country and this filters down to the representatives – it’s very personal interaction and relationships are formed.
I was fortunate to have some take me under their wing and guide me – I will not  name people here as you are very aware of who you are I am so grateful for those years …. ok I will just one Carmen Batista you were iconic!

Given my background I understood the parameters that influence the growing of the grapes down to the geology and climates and everything in between from the vineyard to the bottle – however I needed to take a journey with my palate and sense of taste.
My little wine knowledge was aquired at the Royal Show grounds in varsity days at The Witness Wine week drinking copious amounts of Muscat D Alexandria and nothing else .
However age improves sensory perceptions and I soon started to hone my skills.

My landlord was unable to sell the then Gallo House, the building that Marriott Gardens is situated in, left me in charge of it and set sail of on his catamaran round the world journey in the direction of  the States,  Caribbean and eventually Malaysia where he sold his boat when on the last leg of his journey past pirate infested Somalia coastlines his plans were scuttled.

This lasted several years and I continued to man my shop single handed and put the additional funds back into my stock of Whisky and Wine until at last I was on a level of others and debt free – my temperature conditions being the best in Durban for the storing wines.
My daughter worked on the World Cruise ship running the bar and undertaking mixology.
Her influence exposed me to the wonderful science  of alcohol – I have always said that its alchemy.

My clients want to celebrate life not forget it and every person has their favourite.
Over the past two decades I have been privileged to witness and be part of the special moments in many people’s lives. – The young East Radio DJ who bought a bottle of champagne to propose to his girlfriend – I knew before she did.
Years later he came into the shop  to introduce  her and his children.

There was the nervous lad who wanted to buy a bottle of red wine to impress his girlfriend’s father whom he  was about  to ask for his permission for marry the daughter.
The clients whose sudden change to alcohol free beverages heralded having just visited their Doctor to confirm a pregnancy .

I get to share the moment  before the rest of their immediate family are given the good news.
People want a sense of community and relationships in their purchasing.

Having survived 20 years of curved balls – Covid has in particular been horrendous to the normal business model of alcohol . And then this year the riots – the community galvanized and I was fortunately spared.
Both with the Covid lockdown  and then the  riots the most reassuring moment was hearing the genuine concern for me from people across the spectrum of income and demographics and their sense of relief that I had survived.

With decreased foot passage of forex with no global movement of expats coming back to see family my business has become very localized in its patronage.
I used to get annual pilgrimage from London and Manhattan .
In order to add value to my business model and give back to my customers I now host a one on one with ten people and a winemaker, 4 times a year– they get to meet the face behind the label and hear their story.

I love living “south of the river” – I could not replicate going down the Rabbit hole elsewhere and wouldn’t change it for the world.
Us South Africans are resilient folk and maybe living on a knifes edge is the motivation to be innovative!
If you are connoisseur,  a wine lover, or are simply interested in learning more about wines (or need advice on any matters regarding alcohol), then Hervey is the man to chat with!

You can find him at:
 Shop No. 3
Problem Mkhize Road
Morningside,

Tel:  0836633050