Ruby Slipper Business Ninja Interview : Chris Malden, Hepburn Springs Entrepreneur

This week’s Business Ninja is Chris Malden, co-owner of Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat, Birch Estate Farm, The Mineral Spa and The Argus Dining Room. As fate would have it, Ruby Slipper are going up to adventure in Daylesford with a range of your other favorite Melbourne bloggers in late November – so we look forward to sharing both our beautiful images and experiences at some of Chris’ businesses in the town. But for now, find out more about Chris and how he came to run several singularly wonderful businesses within cooee of our favourite mineral springs destination.

1. How did you come to run Birch Estate Farm and Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat, Hepburn Springs?

We bought Birch Estate Farm in 2007 as an entrée into agriculture. Birch Estate was bought with sustainability and food production in mind. We always had the vision that the rare breed sheep, rare breed cattle and fresh produce would supply food to our hotel – Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat in Hepburn Springs – and this became a reality after the purchase of the farm.

2. Do you have a background in agriculture or hospitality, and if not – what was your previous career?

I don’t have a background in agriculture, but have been involved in hospitality in some way or another since I started work in a roadhouse at 15. I’ve been an apprentice chef and also worked in events in Melbourne before coming to Daylesford.

3. Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat is far enough away from the city to be a real getaway, but not so far as to be a tiring drive. What three ‘must do’ activities should newbies to Daylesford and Hepburn Springs undertake on their first visit to the region?

a. Visit The Retreat @ The Mineral Spa – there is nothing like sinking into the beautiful warm natural spring water pools, especially on a Friday evening after work when Twilight Bathing is offered.

b. Wander through the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve to drink natural spring water straight from the source.

c. For a fine dining experience and the opportunity to taste local produce, you can’t go past the Argus Dining Room. Much of the produce here and the rare breed meat is from our Birch Estate Farm and the butter is hand-churned, it’s beautiful.

4. If you could have any four people (alive or not-so-alive) dine with you at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat who would they be, why would you select them, and what would be on the menu?

I would choose to dine with my father, my mum, my grandfather and my partner. My partner is the only one who is still with us, not that I want to live in the past or dwell on people that are no longer here, but you do miss what you can no longer have. My parents were from Cobden – my father was a builder and on the weekends my mum was his apprentice. Each weekend we would meet in Hepburn Springs where we would renovate properties together. They would be over the moon if they could now see where we started together and where we are at now with this beautifully refurbished grand old building in Hepburn Springs. My mum’s father (my grandfather), he was a dam drencher, he always dreamed of owning his own farm but there were many tough times in his days, he would have loved to be part of our farm with rare breed cattle and sheep roaming about the grassy volcanic plans of Birch Estate in Smeaton. And of course my partner – for many reasons – one of these being because my parents always enjoyed his humour.

On the menu we would have raspberries – from one of the 200 canes we hand planted at the farm. Of course some of our rare-breed Hampshire Down lamb would have to be included and we would drink Spa Country Spring Water which we bottle ourselves (along with a glass of local red of course). There is nothing like fresh, home grown produce.

5. Tell us an unexpected fact about both your hotel and Hepburn Springs.

When we bought the hotel in 2000 it was called The Mineral Springs Hotel and it was a true local’s venue – a real drinking pub, with 24 rooms and hydrangeas in the fireplaces. After 12 years of hard work and more than $1million invested in the property we have restored it to its former glory and now we’re proud that it is one of the region’s finest boutique hotels.

6. Is there magic in the water? 

There most certainly is! Our region has the highest concentration of mineral springs in Australia and the healing benefits of natural mineral spring water has encouraged visitors to take part in the ritual of ‘taking the waters’.  The benefits of bathing in mineral water are widely recognized and have been part of health and wellness routines around the world for centuries – the Swiss Italian settlers were certainly onto something when they arrived here.

7. What is the most gratifying experience you’ve garnered from being hoteliers and bespoke farmers? 

Birch Estate Farm offers us a respite and a complete change of scene from the busy world of work in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs and it has further helped us integrate into the rural community. Because of the farm we joined the local Landcare group and helped generate funding to restore the local cemetery.

Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat has reinforced our belief that anything is possible and allowed us to work with other inspiring tourism operators in the region to make Daylesford and Hepburn Springs the aspirational and amazing destination that it is today.

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