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Peter Oliver

Peter Oliver

The man from down under.

CBC – Peter Oliver Dead at 74.

Peter Oliver, not too publicly known for private reasons passed away at the age of 74.

Peter Oliver died on September 21, 2022.

Peter Charles Howard Oliver was born July 30, 1948, in Cape Town, South Africa, to Guy Oliver, a soldier who had suffered a debilitating injury during the Second World War, and Joan Parsonson, a Canadian.

 

Peter Oliver always met all of his employees at least once during their employment.

For someone that has his or her own engine, it should not be farmed out he used to say in conversation.

As an employee, I had to meet with Peter Oliver.

It was a good meeting and included communication in human relations and resources.

I remember him talking about expansion and acquisition of talent.

He opened his first bakery as a sandwich storefront in 1978 after a successful career in stock brokerage and commercial real estate.

He later teamed with Michael Bonacine to form Oliver & Bonacini.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-restaurateur-peter-oliver-built-a-thriving-hospitality-empire/

In 1993, Michael Bonacini, then the chef at the venerated Italian restaurant Centro, received a call from a headhunter.

A toast to Centro.

The recruiter was working with a mystery restaurateur who was searching for a chef and partner for a new project in the heart of Toronto’s financial district.

I think his name was Franco Provadello.

Michael agreed to a meeting but it was not with Mr. Provadello.

“And there, waiting for me – six-foot-four, big, toothy smile, long and lanky – was Peter.” -Michael Bonnacini.

By then, Peter Oliver was already a fixture of Toronto’s restaurant scene. He had a handful of successful midtown businesses to his name (including Oliver’s Old-Fashioned Bakery and Auberge du Pommier.

Oliver told Bonacini that he was trying to build an upmarket but casual spot called Jump, which would cater to the expense-account-wielding Bay Street crowd.

This caught Bonacini’s attention.

It sounded like Union Square Cafe in New York. a place that Bonacini was familiar with.

They struck a deal. And thus a restaurant empire was born.

Over three decades, the pair built one of the country’s most powerful hospitality companies, including 34 restaurants and venues under the Oliver and Bonacini brand.

They also invested together in dozens of other businesses, including SOMA Chocolatemaker, Pizzeria Libretto, and the food-court staple in IQ Foods.

With the aid of wealthy relatives abroad, Peter was sent to a boarding school in South Africa at an early age.

In 1967 almost 10 years after his father died, Peter arrived in Canada to attend McGill University.

He was under the impression that, because his mother was Canadian, tuition would be free. Upon realizing the mistake, Peter took on a series of odd jobs to help pay for his education.

He did scaffolding work on the Gardiner Expressway.

In the summers, he traveled to Zimbabwe, where his mother had remarried. Her new husband was a tobacco farmer, and Peter worked on the farm.

He even worked as a lumberjack.

At McGill, Peter played on the school’s rugby team.

By the late 1970s, Peter had built a successful career in commercial real estate, and as a stockbroker.

He decided his mother and stepfather should come to Canada and that together they would start a bakery.

Peter would build it.

It was called Oliver’s Old Fashioned Bakery.

One restaurant became two, then three, and four. And then he met Michael Bonacini.

Without fail, Peter Oliver worked 80-hour weeks.

He was maniacal with the way he worked. “Coming from humble means, he was going to do whatever it took to be successful.”

The restaurants weren’t all successful.

There were restaurants that lost, “an insane amount of money.”

 Mr. Oliver’s elder son, Andrew Oliver, said. “There were years where there was no funding, and my mom [who worked as an Air Canada flight attendant] had to support everyone.”

And when it came time to build Jump, Bonacini said, they spent $150,000 over budget just to get the doors open – and both had to put their homes up as security for the loan.

“We pretty much hawked all that we could hawk.”

Luckily, Jump was a success. Within weeks, they were run off their feet. Both Mr. Bonacini and Mr. Oliver had to ask their wives to work coat checks because they couldn’t hire and train staff fast enough to keep up.

At the restaurants, Peter Oliver’s attention to detail was legendary. It was usual to find him scrubbing.

Michael with his stints as a judge on MasterChef Canada, would emerge as the more public face of the company, it was Mr. Oliver who would personally train each and every new employee, sitting down for dinner with them at the end of the five-hour training session.

He was very nice, gracious, and a true gentleman.
I will miss you, Peter.

Each and every day, without fail, he would shine his brogues before work.

His kids, too, were expected to dress appropriately – including suits and ties for the boys each time they traveled.

“He believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right.”

In the kitchen, he’d say ‘make it nice, or make it twice.’

It was only a decade or so ago, after Andrew took over as president and CEO of the company, that Peter Oliver eased up on his time at the restaurants.

He devoted more of his time to charity – including the Leacock Foundation, a charity he founded to support marginalized youth groups in Toronto and South Africa. He also worked closely with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (his daughter Vanessa has Type 1 diabetes). He started the JDRF Ride to Defeat Diabetes in 1986, which has since raised $ 70 million.

He also finally allowed himself some time to relax. He’d tell his friends, with a puckish grin, that he was going to “meet with Mr. Green” – his code for golf, and enjoyed annual golfing trips to Arizona with his sons.

And as often as possible, he spent time at his cottage on Baptiste Lake near Bancroft. But for Peter, even a place of leisure needed purpose. He threw himself into landscaping and did most of the manual labor himself.

“My mom would say, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with him, he doesn’t want to relax,’” Marc said. “He just goes there in the morning and digs ditches.’”

After Mr. Oliver was diagnosed with lung cancer in May of last year, he still made regular trips to the cottage to spend time with his family. He taught his grandchildren how to grow vegetables. He would host large family dinners with the food they had grown, telling everyone that “nobody on Lake Baptiste is eating better than us.”

And afterward, with a gin and tonic – garnished with a sprig of fresh mint – in hand, he would take a moment to enjoy himself. “This,” he’d say, “is living.”

Mr. Oliver leaves his wife, Maureen; his children, Vanessa, Jessica, Andrew, and Marc; and nine grandchildren.

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He is survived by his wife of 48 years Maureen, four children, and grandchildren.

An obituary from Oliver & Bonacini said he loved teaching about nature’s interconnectedness at their family cottage on Lake Baptiste.

“He spent countless hours digging holes, moving rocks and planting hostas, displaying stamina that would put people half his age to shame,” the obituary said.

“Occasionally he would pull himself away from his latest project to take a swim, practice yoga or sip a gin and tonic —always with fresh mint — before declaring, ‘This is living.”‘

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_%26_Bonacini_Restaurants

Peter was a passionate leader of employee orientation, personally ensuring that all company vision, values, and expectations were clearly communicated.

He was:

Founder: The Stephen Leacock Foundation

Governor: ROM

National Chair: “Ride For A Cure” – Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

I remember Peter Oliver as:

Auberge Du Pomier.

A modern French fine dining restaurant, Auberge du Pommier exudes a quiet confidence, reflecting our commitment to culinary excellence and inspired service. Constructed around the rustic vestiges of two 1860’s woodcutters’ cottages, Auberge du Pommier combines country charm with contemporary sophistication and style. Featuring wood-burning fireplaces in winter and lush, floral terraces in summer, it is a welcoming, refined retreat from the city.

https://www.oliverbonacini.com/restaurants/auberge-du-pommier/

From the public knowledge that we have, Peter Oliver was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and moved to Canada in 1967 to attend McGill University. That would be in Montreal, Quebec.

He opened his first bakery in 1978 after a successful career in stock brokerage and commercial real estate. Peter is the passionate leader of O&B’s legendary service culture. He leads each employee orientation, personally ensuring that Oliver & Bonacini’s vision, values, and expectations are clearly communicated. Peter is the founder of The Stephen Leacock Foundation, which has raised over $12 million for high-needs youth in Canada and South Africa, including the construction of three schools. He has been a Governor of the ROM and National Chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation’s Ride for a Cure.

 


 

 

 

 

 

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