A small peek into the life of Toronto's Robin Wynne. Bartender, bar manager, rumfest organizer, rum enthusiast and people person.
What made you choose for a career in the bar industry and how long has it been so far?
I've pretty much devoted my life to the hospitality industry. I started as a dishwasher early on in high school and have worked my way up as a chef, through to running multi unit operations in the restaurant and bar trade. I'm currently in my 24th year, I think that makes me a senior in this industry!
I love the industry, it has a strong family aspect to it that's given me many rewards over the years. One of my favourite aspects of the job is that no day is ever the same. Every day you have new challenges, new tasks, fresh new faces coming in and out of your life. I meet so many people from very diverse backgrounds that it's been a blessing to learn from and listen to so many people. Through this, I encounter so many different perspectives on life that it keeps you from being stale when talking about the world we live in.
I'm never bored at work and relish talking to guests as much as i can throughout the day. When they leave, I've hopefully made their day better!
You clearly have a passion for rum. What does rum have over other spirits for you to make it your passion?
It's true, I do love rum. It's more than just a passion, it's become a lifestyle for me. Growing up, I was fascinated with history, geography, biology, science and art. Rum has all of that wrapped up into it.
Most spirits have a young history, maybe only going back 100 years in time, but rum has almost 400 years of history. That's fascinating to me, to see how big a part history is within the rum world.
You cannot have a conversation about rum without a conversation about history, the two go hand in hand.
One thing to understand is that the history of rum is as much about the history of people, who we were and who we've become, and it’s not all good. It's a humbling reminder why today we still have a lot of work to do.
Rum is also a global phenomenon. It's now being produced all over the world, with a lot of diversity, this is fascinating to see. It gives me hope that while we do come from different backgrounds, different ways of life, we can still connect and enjoy what rum is about...family.
How would you describe the current rum scene in Toronto and how could it become bigger and better?
The current rum scene in Toronto is fantastic, inclusive, and growing rapidly. 10 years ago you would never say that. With the local alcohol control board having such a limited selection of rum, most of us discovered rum through vacationing, duty free bottles, and tourists bringing rare rums back up from the Caribbean!
Appleton's has been strong in the market for years, and we're the number one market for the brand. This brings back memories of the 1980's and the Club Med ads on tv seducing Canadians to come to Jamaica…catchy songs, beautiful beaches and rum. Canadians embraced this and brought back a love of rum. We have been rewarded with our loyalty with a special edition of Appleton's 15yr rum currently for sale all over Canada (stocks are dwindling so buy buy buy!!!). This release was so well celebrated locally and internationally that it's now going to be a worldwide release!!
Today we have seen a growth of interest in rum in Toronto as a few local spots like Miss Thing's, Shameful Tiki Room, Rhum Corner, Shore Leave, Chubbys, Bovine Tiki bar, have all made rum a focus. Passionate bartenders and guests now have options for great rum offerings while out for dinner or drinks!
With the Rum Club Canada on Facebook, Shameful Tiki's rum club, Miss Thing's storied rum dinner series and the OBC (Ontario Bartending Community, an industry focused page), rum is getting its bigger share of the spotlight!
Now we have amazing rum people like Richard and Gayle Seale, Zan Kong, Audrey Hands, Jeff Berry, Benjamin Jones, Alexandre Gabriel, Joy Spence, Shawn Caleb, Emily Gosling, all coming and spending time in Toronto! This is because we are thirsty to learn more about rum, transparency, and what else lies beyond the poor selection that the LCBO offers us. What a time to be alive!!! It can only prosper further by more rum people visiting the city and supporting its local scene. Hopefully people can hear us and see us this far north!!!
You are organizing Toronto Rumfest. How long ago did you come up with this idea?
About 4 years ago we had a round table of what were the pioneers in the Toronto rum scene. This included local rum ambassadors, rum enthusiasts, Caribbean focused media, and industry veterans. We all said we needed a focus on rum, but didn’t know how to bring a rumfest to the city. It was a great meeting but because most people were busy in their brand roles, it kind of got shelved.
Fast forward 2 years later and with a few dedicated local rum enthusiasts, we reopened the idea of a proper rumfest. We visited a few rumfests and bar related conventions to meet different brands and people to further build the relationships that will help the event be a success. The biggest reward is being part of a larger global rum family that has completely embraced the idea and offered help from all aspects!
Why will it be successful?
We're hoping that Toronto Rumfest will be successful because we will be focusing on inclusion, diversity and a celebration of all things rum and rum related. We're working with a lot of talented and passionate people who have envisioned something that will help Toronto, and Canada grow its love of rum!
We can't wait for everyone to come celebrate rum with us in Toronto. We look forward to showing the world why Toronto is indeed one of the best and most diverse, culturally significant cities in the world! There is so much to do here and we hope that a lot of out of town guests come and experience what the city has to offer!
Can you give us a few hints on what it’s going to be like?
We're still hard at work laying the ground work for the festival (think of this stuff as the part of the iceberg that's hidden under water.. and there is a lot ooooof). We can say that we want to showcase rum of course, but also art and culture from those areas producing rum. The world has so much diversity and we hope to add some of that to the festival celebrations in an inclusive environment.
While still a year away, we've already started coordinating on some of the formatting for the festival. You can follow along at @torumfest on instagram and Facebook, and from other celebrated social media accounts like @therumcouncilofcanada on instagram, the Rum Club Canada Facebook page and via blogs (such as this one!).
We don't want to give away too much right now! Catch us touring the various rum festivals around the world this year as we spread the news and Canadian Rum Love!