At one time I used to regularly meet Leanne Pepper on the bus on the way home, when she lived a few block away from me in the east end of Toronto. I’ve known Leanne for a decade or two, vaguely aware of her role as General Manager of the Faculty Club.
From time to time I had occasion to visit the University of Toronto Faculty Club:
- at a Christmas Party
- taken to lunch by my boss
- playing one of their pianos for a colleague at their retirement reception
- seeing an exhibit of art by my friend Attila which I wrote about on this blog a few months ago
A university is brilliant minds, research facilities, power grids & utilities, books, information technology. Some would say that the whole world is here in microcosm, a great many types of work going on, as people strive to learn, to discover, to change themselves and the world. And sometimes the community needs to eat, to take a break, to have some fun, to celebrate or simply to relax.
After years of being vaguely aware of the Club, and especially after seeing Attila’s show in the summer I thought I might interview Leanne, ask her some questions: about herself and about her work with the Faculty Club.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
A bit of both, my father was bit of a perfectionist. He had his own electrical business. He worked long hours. He taught me how to ride a bike, to swim, gardening. Also the importance of enjoying what you do in life. He took great pride in his projects especially his garden. He won lots of awards for his garden. He also loved cruising. I think it was because of all the great food!
He loved to entertain. He also loved to cook especially BBQs. Oh how he loved to eat and enjoy wines. Especially lobster and shrimp! Also he really enjoyed sitting watching the birds.
My mom was my best friend. We loved to travel together. My mom had the best laugh. She was always very positive. She had no problem talking to strangers. She always loved to make people laugh.
She always took great care of herself. She exercised every day. Loved to swim and walk. She always liked to keep busy. Also loved to sit and read books. She loved to dance! She had her gold medal in ballroom dancing.
She loved unconditionally.
2) What is the best thing about running the Faculty Club?
We are the # one Faculty Club in North America! It’s an honour to serve the University of Toronto community. The staffs are awesome! The members make the club extra special.
The club is so beautiful, to be surrounded by fabulous paintings. One of the greatest benefits if being able to eat at the club daily! Great food!
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I love to watch the food channel! My favourite radio station is CBC metro morning and Jazz 91.1
At work I listen to Live365
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I learned to play the piano, harp and sing! One day I will.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I love spending my time in the kitchen creating new dishes. Especially creating vegetarian meals and desserts.
Also gardening and watching the birds. I love spending time with family and friends.
Ten more about managing the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto.
1) Who can become a member of the Faculty Club? Do you have to be Faculty or are staff eligible, and what about students or neighbours living nearby? And what is “the Joint Membership” and how does it work?
The Faculty Club is open to Faculty, Staff, and Retirees, Alumni, President Circle members and Community. Coming soon….. Grad students and parents of students.
The Joint Membership plan is the best benefit ever! University of Toronto is the only University that has a plan like this. The JMP gives members access to the AC, Hart House, The Goldring Center and of course the Faculty Club.
An eligible employee or pensioner of U of T can take advantage of the services and programs as a benefit, the fees for all facilities have been discounted and subsidized by the University. As a convenience the remaining monthly fee is deducted as a benefit from payroll, or through several pre-payment options for pensioners.
The purpose of the benefit is to expand opportunities for fellowship, fitness, and enjoyment of campus life for all employees and pensioners. Spouse/Partner membership services can be arranged through the individual facilities.
We have reciprocal agreements with over 300 clubs internationally, loyalty points, discounts off ROM, AGO, Bata, Textile Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium, Shaw Festival, Science Center, Hart House Theatre, Tarragon Theatre
2) You speak with evident pride about everything on the menu, from your hamburger, to your fish & chips and to your Macaroni & cheese, all of which you’ve called the best burger / Fish & chips / Mac & cheese in town! How often do you change the menu and how is it created? Is it from the chef or a team effort?
The menus are changed seasonally. It’s a team effort. In the pub we have a bits and bits menu, daily special and a very extensive menu. We have the best burger, the best fish & chips the best Panini sandwich, and the best mac and cheese on campus. Some members say it’s the best in Toronto!
It has to be the best for our members!
3) I assume that your list of wines & spirits is as extraordinary as your menu. How do you go about staying informed?
Selecting wines and spirits is also a team effort. We work with great wine agents.
Special thanks to Dale, Dan, Colleen and Pierre.
We have a great selection of craft beers on tap and cider.
We also have a great selection of single malts. Not as many as McMasters Faculty Club.
4) How many staff do you have?
In total we have approx. 26 full time staff and lots of casual staff. I am every so grateful to have a Great team!
- 10 Kitchen
- 3 Pub staff
- 5 Dining room
- 1 Bartender
- 5 Office staff
- 2 House staff
5) I wrote about Attila Keszei’s show in the summer at the pub. I know there’s a collection of great pieces there, but you also have shows from time to time. Please talk about art at the Faculty Club.
The club has a fantastic collection of paintings.
In the pub and foulds dining room we feature local artists: like Attila’s show. It was fabulous!
I have a couple of openings for next year.
6) What would you dream of offering that you don’t offer now? What is on your wish-list as far as ambitions for the Club & plans for its development
- Overnight accommodations
- Condos for our members
My wish list includes an elevator, kitchen for off premise catering, overnight accommodations… Boutique spa and gym, more bee hives, parking, roof top garden, larger kitchen with a larger dish washer, more storage space, a business center for our members, library, wine cellar, French doors leading to the patio from the dining room, new dining room chairs, carpet and drapes.
7) Tell me about the bees..!
It is very exciting to have 4 bee hives on our roof. Many thanks to Pieter Basedow and the U of T bees. Yes we offer tours/workshops/talks on beekeeping 101. Also the chef works with the honey. It’s lovely to feature the honey with cheese. We extracted the honey last week. 54 bottles of honey for sale. The money goes to U of T bees.
8) I understand that you teach etiquette. In this day of empowerment, why should I want to learn proper etiquette, a concept that seems kind of “retro“, and a relic from the bad old days of class distinctions and elitism..?
Etiquette and manners are so important, it never goes out of style. This is a life skill. Knowing how to handle cutlery and where to put your napkin is just the beginning. It’s important to know how to present yourself, what to wear, also how to make conversation with a stranger. This helps builds confidence. The workshop also includes social and business etiquette.
1st impressions are a lasting impression.
9) What’s the history of the faculty club, and how old is the club
The Faculty Club is located on land originally granted to William Willcocks when he arrived in Upper Canada (Ontario) from Cork, Ireland in the early 1790s. A pioneer colonizer and public official, Willcocks bestowed part of his estate to his son in law Dr. William Warren Baldwin after his marriage to Margaret Phoebe Willcocks in 1803. Dr. Baldwin emerged as a prominent political reform leader in Upper Canada during the 1820s and 1830s. He and his son, Robert, are historically recognized as principal architects of responsible government in the late 1840s, a vital step in Canada’s evolution from colony to nation
Meanwhile, by 1818, Dr. Baldwin had built a country house on his 200-acre estate, which he called Spadina, derived from a native word for “hill” or “sudden rise of land.” He designed an extra wide road that led from his house at the top of the hill (next door to the future Casa Loma) and extended three miles south to Queen Street West, then the northern boundary of the Town of York (which became the City of Toronto after 1834). He included along the road that would later be named after his estate a circle intended to be a fine English country garden now known as 1 Spadina Crescent. Dr. Baldwin named a connecting street just north of the circle Willcocks in honour of his wife and her family lineage.
Neighbourhood development in the area known until 1859 as the “Liberties” did not advance north of College Street until the 1880s when the Honorable Sir Adam Wilson, a partner in the law firm of Robert Baldwin and eventually a municipal councillor and provincial cabinet minister, resided at 41 Willcocks Street along with his wife Emma. Ìn July 1888, the Wilsons sold the house for $5,625 to Elizabeth Prudence Campbell, “widow,” who resided there until her death in 1916. The Campbell estate sold the property to The Primrose Club for $17,250 in October 1919.
Originally called the Cosmopolitan Society when founded in 1907, the Primrose Club was a private meeting place for Jewish business and professional men. Prominent Jewish architects Benjamin Brown and Arthur W. McConnell redesigned 41 Willcocks by merging it with the attached homes at 37-39 Willcocks to create the current Georgian Revival-style building, featuring an elegant lounge, dining room, and ballroom that placed it among the city’s most prestigious clubs. The Primrose Club remained at 41 Willcocks until 1959 when the University of Toronto acquired the building for its new Faculty Club.
Previously, male and female members of the University`s Faculty Union customarily met separately – the men at Hart House and the much smaller contingent of women at the University Women’s Club on St. George Street. But at the insistence of some professors, including German scholar Barker Fairley and his wife, Margaret, who offered the Club a collection of Group of Seven works on the condition that it welcome women as members, the Faculty Club opened its doors in the summer of 1960 to faculty and senior administrators of both genders. This impressive collection of Group of Seven art is open for public viewing in the elegant Fairley Lounge on the main floor of the building. In 2009, the Faculty Club celebrated its heritage by renaming one of its upstairs meeting halls “The Primrose Room.” For more than a half century, the Faculty Club has served as an important social centre for the University of Toronto community, including faculty, administrative staff, alumni, and has been one of the most successful university faculty clubs in Canada and North America.
10) How long has Leanne been in the hospitality industry, and how many of those years were spent here? Do you have any influences, teachers or mentors?
Over 40 years! 21 years at University of Toronto Faculty Club. 10 years at McMaster University Faculty Club. OMG time flies when you are having fun!!!
I graduated from George Brown in the culinary arts program.
I also graduated from the Washington School of Protocol.
My biggest influence in my life was my brother Randy Pepper. He was the best brother in the whole wide world. He opened my eyes and heart to making a difference in this world. He helped me discovered the world through travel, food and wine. He showed me the magic in world by sharing special moments with family and friends.
The 2015 holiday luncheon buffet will soon be history (the University will be open until December 22nd, closing until the university re-opens January 4th)…
…but in 2016 there’s a New Year’s buffet January 14th, Robbie Burns Dinner Friday January 15th , Winterlicious and more. Check the Faculty Club calendar to see what’s coming next.