Meet Gillian Duff, El Gaucho Portland General Manager

We usually present our blog features in story form but because this month’s employee spotlight is a former journalist herself, we thought we would turn the tables and put Gillian Duff, El Gaucho Portland’s newest General Manager, in the interview chair.

What is your full name?  Do you have a nickname/what do coworkers call you?
Gillian Mairi Duff, people call me G.

Where did you grow up?  Do you have any degrees or accreditations?
I was born in Rochester NY, moved to Portland at the age of 6 months and have been here ever since.  After studying journalism and communications at UW, I finished up my BA in communications at The Evergreen State College and am a proud Greener!

Walk us through your career journey to your present position.
After graduating from college, I was employed as an intern and then assistant at a local news station but I had a strong desire to travel.  I lived with my parents for a year after college to save money and when I was ready, left the news station and bought an around-the-world plane ticket. First, I went to visit a friend in Hawaii for what was supposed to be a week.  I fell in love with the sunshine and stayed for 3 months, and found my first restaurant job as a host at a place on Front Street in Lahaina.  It was a great fit and I fell in love with the fast-paced, multi-faceted work that the restaurant business had to offer and I have been working in the industry in various capacities ever since.  I joined the El Gaucho Portland team in 2012 as a server, became the Wine Captain in 2014 and here I am now- honored and privileged to have yet another role working with the same incredible team.

What are you most excited for as you take on your new role as General Manager at El Gaucho Portland?
Among so many things, I am MOST excited to continue to cultivate an atmosphere of positivity and fun in which we all excel at what we do AND have fun doing it.  If there is one thing I learned from my mother, it is how to care for other people. Having been blessed with such a kind and generous role model in her, I must thank the universe daily by giving to others what she has given to me and I try to do that by treating people with fairness, kindness and an open mind.  Sometimes it is a mistake that is handled as a learning opportunity rather than as a discredit to a person’s skills that can relieve someone of the fear of discipline and really open their minds to learn and improve.  Our team is such a wonderful mix of creative and diverse individuals, I can’t wait to get to know everyone even more and watch them flourish in new ways. The responsibility of being a key figure in creating and maintaining a positive an environment is not lost on me and it will be my greatest goal to ensure that that is what we provide at El Gaucho Portland.

What is your favorite thing about working for El Gaucho?
We revel in celebrating lives, what can be better than that? The concept of ‘celebration’ is one of joy and happiness and one that I believe in wholeheartedly! Julia Childs said it best: “A party without cake is just a meeting.”  It is the good times and moments of shared happiness with friends and family that distinguish certain moments from the rest of the days of our lives.  You might not remember your last day of work as much as you will remember how you celebrated your retirement with all your loved ones!

To do this we set the bar high and it is very satisfying to see that height reached again and again each evening with care AND flair!  I really love the magic and the focus on joy that the hospitality business is built upon and nobody delivers that better than us.  We make our guest’s night, every night.  That is incredibly special.

What is a fun story to share about your time at El Gaucho?
In 2013, my husband and I returned from vacation and found a sheet had been posted for employees to sign up to take the Court of Master Sommeliers Introduction certification course so I added my name. I had wanted to take the class for a long time but it was nerve wracking because I had missed several weeks of study time being gone.  Nevertheless, I signed up to take the course. Six weeks later a group of us headed up the road to Seattle to take the test, studying the whole way.  We were nervous and the test, by all accounts, was even tougher than we thought it would be!  We were stressed out and were encouraged by the proctors to, perhaps, have a beverage across the street while we waited for our test results.  We took them up on that advice and soon the place was packed with jittery test-takers from all the El Gaucho locations and from the main offices as well!  We lamented the difficulty of the test, discussed the particularly tough questions and kept our fingers crossed that our name would be called when we returned.  I just always felt that was a special moment with so many people from the restaurants coming together on their own time, with a united goal for the betterment of themselves and their commitment to what they do.  (Note: Gillian didn’t mention it but she scored the best in the class, of more than 50 industry personnel taking the class and test).

What do you want people to know specifically about El Gaucho Portland?
Located in the Willamette Valley, El Gaucho Portland has unique access to the world-renowned wineries that appear on our list and we are tightly embedded in our local wine scene because of that.  Two of the top three wines on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list for 2016 were Willamette Valley wines (a huge honor) and are wines we have supported for quite some time.  Our wine industry has really come a long way in its relatively short history and we are extremely proud of it here.

Portland is a town of full-time foodists and our service personnel can not only tell you all about our menu at El Gaucho but can tell you about every other menu in town, how long an establishment has been there, who owns it, for how long and why… and what to order there!  Portland’s restaurant community is very tight knit and the people in it are highly skilled professionals that live and breathe the industry and are informed in ways that truly can inform a guest’s experience in a unique way. While our first choice is that you dine at El Gaucho every night of the week, ask around and you will see the passion people have for food and beverage in this town.  It’s what we do!

What are 5 adjectives used to describe you?
I took a survey and this is what it said:  Funny, thoughtful, practical, self-disciplined, compassionate.

What are your most important accomplishments? This includes personal and professional.
Professionally, my most important accomplishment prior to becoming General Manager was being promoted to Wine Captain and getting to do my dream job!  Personally, I will never forget the moment my brothers and I gave our parents an evening out at French Laundry for their 40th wedding anniversary.  My brothers and I all chipped in and gave them a dining certificate at Christmas time and it is one of my favorite life memories to date.

Tell us a bit about your family.  And this includes pets.
The family that I came from and the one that my husband and I have created are the single most important pieces that govern the rest of my life, make me who I am and keep me happy and going forward. My family includes my amazing husband, Joe, and our 14-year-old Chocolate lab-Chesapeake bay retriever, Baila, who is the cutest little old lady you’ve ever seen.  I am extremely close with my parents, my 3 brothers and their families and we all get together on an almost weekly basis.  We have 13 nieces and nephews on my husband’s side and just one nephew living in town so he gets all the spoiling whenever we see him.  I also married into the most loving group of family and friends I could ask for! I speak to my mom on the phone almost daily.

What are you known for?
I’m known for throwing surprise parties for people, always striving to make people laugh, being family oriented and a love of animals- especially dogs. I am known for chasing the sun and love nothing more than being on, in or near bodies of water of any kind – tropical oceans and sunny lakes preferred.

What are some of your hobbies?
Cooking, organizing, making tiny little appetizers, having dinner parties, exploring and enjoying wine and food, keeping up on the local restaurant scene.  Travel is my favorite thing to do, near and far.  Nothing piques my interest more than the world that is out there to be discovered.

What’s a little-known thing about you that you don’t mind sharing?
I’m first generation American, my parents are both from Scotland and moved here just after they were married.  My maternal grandfather was a fisherman in the north of Scotland and my grandmother was a cook in a local hotel so he brought home the goods and she turned them into dinner. Growing up with this, my mom has always been an incredible cook and brought us up to have pretty adventurous palates.  My parents hosted a lot of incredible dinner parties (and still do) and I think I fell in love with the warmth and happiness that those events created at a young age.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever got, and who gave it to you?
Fly high, fly low.  Fly low, fly long.  Something my mom always says, possibly a Scottish saying.

What is your most memorable dining experience?  Where was it, who were you with, what made it so special?
When I turned 21, I was in Mexico with my parents and they took me out to a beautiful restaurant on a cliff overlooking the ocean. They had tableside service, my parents encouraged me to order a glass of wine and the experience was very special.  I remember thinking- I like this and want more moments like this in my life!  It was life-affirming.

Anything we missed?

I was voted Most Humorous in high school.

I love making lists and crossing stuff off them!

I used to do voice over for radio after college and have done spots and training pieces for several local companies

I’m a happily recovered vegetarian.

I learned Spanish from my college roommate blasting Latin rock at all hours. I fell in love with the language as she spoke on the phone to her family. I haven’t been formally trained but I can hold a conversation!

Stop by and say hi to Gillian at El Gaucho Portland.


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