Ken Bryan is an award winning hospitality consultant, brand marketer & former club owner who understands the ins and the outs of upscale hospitality & nightlife in Toronto, like few others.
From throwing massive parties in Toronto's most luxurious venues, to hosting exclusive private dinners with Hollywood's A-list & Fortune 500 executives, Ken is a lifestyle and event marketing professional who specializes in connecting all the right people to all the right places.
"With a professional background in financial services, sponsorship development & brand marketing, I understand the importance of customer service and being thorough. I also LOVE to see people enjoying themselves."
His mother deported when he was months old, his father scarcely present in his life, Ken was raised by family friends, distant relatives & strangers who became his foster family.
From TCHC & notorious low income areas like Parkdale to Regent Park, Galloway and Falstaff, with no parents and no stable home life, Ken spent his formative years facing off against the various forms of abuse and neglect that comes with being a "foster" and fighting the inevitability of becoming another statistic for young people like him; dead or in jail at an early age.
Avoiding these however was never a feat for Ken. His longing for purpose and ambition for more in life, took him to the financial services industry. But after a few years, Ken decided he no longer wanted to pursue a career in that field.
He had always kept a "side job" developing sponsorship packages for his friends in nightlife & figured out a way to earn a living by doing it full time.
"It was alot of fun, I'd basically be paid with drink tickets and getting into the events free, it also kept me sane from the monotony of corporate life for a while, but I realized that if I took a commission from the sales, I could quit my job and pursue something where I'm my own boss and living a happier life."
In short time, his sponsorship pursuits lead to him merging his company with a major event management / creative firm with blue chip clients like Pepsi and Doritos.
"It was cool at first, I actually went home and cried because I took a major risk leaving my day job and here I was within six months, validated by such a cool company with an impressive client list."
But there were unforeseen obstacles that ended up making the business less than successful.
"When you're dealing with a major multinational, billion dollar company with sub brands and partnerships, there are alot of things to consider. Things that kept me from truly being independent, due to conflicts of interest."
"I grew up bouncing around all the different hoods in Toronto. Man, I thought the Bloods & Crips were bad", Bryan laughs.
"I remember not even being able to drink certain brands of water in the office. lol. Needless to say, I sold the company and started bouncing with my buddies. I've always been into health, fitness and martial arts. Comic books were my only constant bouncing around different neighbourhoods, families and even countries and I wanted to look like the only "role models" I had: comic book characters.
My corporate life meant I had connections and the ability to talk to people before punching them out...which upscale venues always love in their doormen."
He quickly moved up the ranks, becoming head doorman for a busy King West club conglomerate, handling celeb VIPs like Chris Rock, Paris Hilton and numerous other affluent members of Toronto's society.
"I've always been fortunate to see opportunity in everything I'd done. I realized that the networking opportunities in nightlife were second to none. Despite the stigma associated with going clubbing...at some point, everyone heads out for a night on the town. Here I was, this kid from the hood, having conversations & developing relationships with CEO's and Supreme Court Justices."
Due to a life threatening heart condition that came upon him suddenly, Bryan, under the advice from his doctors could no longer bounce.
"I never grew up with my family and I hated hospitals and doctors, so I had no clue. I was fine one week and 8 days later, I was in Cardiac ICU hooked up to life support machines and basically told I had 3 days to live MAX. They wouldn't even let me fall asleep because I had to sign a power of attorney to one of my buddies in case I didn't wake up and they had to pull the plug."
"I honestly loved bouncing. I got to take care of and protect people and would probably still be doing it today if I hadn't gotten ill. Fortunately though, I had been approached by a good friend of mine who owned a building in the entertainment district and he asked me if I would be interested in opening a venue in his building with him."
And that was how the short lived, but highly touted Roosevelt Room Supperclub was born.
"People thought we didn't know what we were doing by opening a high end venue in that area, but I did my due diligence. I knew that the condos were coming to Adelaide and Richmond and met with residents, BIA and city officials and planned for Roosevelt to be there in the middle of all the condos once they opened. Our particular block was all commercial, with offices across from and beside us, so noise wouldn't be an issue and the city was busy shutting down all the venues around us. We just had to survive and wait it out."
Bryan also saw the chance to fully utilize all he had learned from corporate and nightlife and apply it in one direction.
"Roosevelt really took me to another level. She was my baby from start to finish. I did everything and anything it took to make her happen and make her work. It was very tough and took a huge toll on me personally. It cost me two relationships and whether it was firing staff or butting heads with partners who weren't focused on the end goal, I learned to make the tough call when it needed to be...and that's not really in my nature."
Roosevelt Room's concept was unique at the time, a throwback to the Gatsby era and roaring 20's. It featured a menu inspired by the very first Academy Awards in 1929 and had a tough dress code. It also gained considerable press and word of mouth when people started hearing the events that were happening there.
"I programmed some crazy things there, from booking DJs that you would only find at venues ten times our size (and making money with it), to bringing in acts and promoters from the gay village to hosting some of Hollywoods biggest stars during TIFF."
"I provide support services for studios in town for films, so press junkets, dinners, awards, cocktail parties, etc... I remember in one night, I had a Michelin rated chef flown in from San Francisco to cook dinner for Robert DeNiro, Mila Jovovich and Edward Norton. I also brought up Armand Van Helden to spin the afterparty."
Despite his great reputation and relationships with people in the industry who rallied around him while he was ill, he found he couldn't get the same support for his venue once it opened.
"My goal with Roosevelt was to be so good people couldn't ignore us. We also had some people who wanted to see us fail. I actually had one person tell me to my face that they will wait the 3 months it will take us to flop, then come in and buy us for next to nothing. We were effectively black listed as well, I had people come to our parties who were in the industry and not want to take pics, because it would piss someone off and they would get in trouble."
Even if someone didn't know / care about the "politics", he still faced challenges getting support from the industry.
"Toronto is promoter city. The promoters run nightlife here...and promoters wouldn't touch us because of the area we were in, it was a shitty location, surrounded by kiddie clubs. It wasn't an easy sell, so I had to become our best promoter. I learned alot though from all those experiences and am thankful for the strength and drive it gave me."
The building was eventually sold, a casualty of the same condo-fication of Toronto's downtown core, but Bryan, with connections and a determination to open his own venue again, formed a promotional / event marketing company to continue building on the success and relationships he found at Roosevelt....4Tune lifestyle & event marketing Company.
"Nightlife has a stigma attached to it. I want to help erase that, hence why I call myself people's "At Play Ambassador". Some of my closest friends I've met in this industry. Probably the greatest love of my life, I met in this industry and some of the best business lessons I've learned have come as a result of my experiences in this industry. Clubbing isn't a crime and there's nothing wrong with going out and having a good time...at any age."
Bryan's ambition, love for his city and the nightlife industry are his driving passions.
"I'm really looking forward to making an impact. Toronto is an amazing city and we still have this small town, copy cat nightlife that stems from our Canadian insecurity. We need to realize that we are cool and have something unique to offer to the world. We are consistently top 10 in standard of living, we are one of the most diverse city's on the planet and we prove that diversity can work! Toronto has to learn to love itself before we can truly be "world class" and I aim to be one of the people leading that charge in my own way."
From overcoming childhood poverty, abuse, neglect and near homelessness to beating a life threatening illness and making a venue with all the challenges Roosevelt Room faced into one of the most talked about in Toronto's history, Ken certainly isn't a stranger to facing and overcoming challenges in life.