By Jake Kivanc
As someone who comes off instantly approachable, Lawrence MacTaggert is the kind of person that’s hard to find in a city full of strangers.
He’s also a face that a lot of Ryerson students have come to know very well.
MacTaggert, 56, is the supervisor of Oakham House, the artsy Gould St. cafe that sits sandwiched between the Student Centre and the Ram in the Rye.
Working at the restaurant for almost seven years, it’s a place he said he’s come to love. “I’ve seen some of my regular kids go from orientation to graduation,” he said. “It’s an oasis for students to escape.”
MacTaggert, one of five children in his family, comes from a background with three generations of restaurateurs and service people under its belt.
With his mother’s side from England and his father’s from Scotland, MacTaggert found himself raised in an environment that was a mix of hard work and good fun.
Describing his younger years growing up in Winnipeg, MacTaggert recalled how his parents’ constant devotion to hospitality — even in unruly circumstances — was an inspiration to him.
“My buds and I’d go partying after work — drinking, smoking, going to concerts and shows, and then we’d come home to my mother who’d say, ‘Would you like some peanut butter sandwiches, lads?’ She’d be offering people hospitality and making people feel at home. It’s something that was instilled in me and my siblings.” MacTaggert recalls.
Finding his first job as a barista at a Brazilian coffee house, MacTaggert said the creative atmosphere that came with the musicians, artists and poets that passed through the building is what began to develop his love for the arts.
Since that first job at the age of 15, MacTaggert has done it all: bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs and everything in between. From the Silver Dollar Room, a Spadina Ave. music venue and lounge, to barVolo, a craft brewery just north of the Ryerson campus.
The two threads that bind MacTaggert’s history together are people and the arts.
Despite his love for the service industry, it’s something he admits is a tough trade to stay in.
“Most people would have just said ‘Fuck it’ at this point,” he said. “Dealing with people can wear on you — I know a lot of people in the industry who don’t last to my age. I’m very lucky because I haven’t hit that point, I still love it.”
MacTaggert, who found his position at Oakham House through a newspaper ad, said that the school needed somebody to run the cafe who wasn’t “encumbered by the stress of exams” and general academic life.
For MacTaggert, that stress holds a deeper meaning, however, and he sees Oakham as a place that “serves a unique purpose” in the culture and ecosystem at Ryerson.
“We have something that’s really special,” he said. “The pub, the cafeterias, those places are fine, but here is something for the artist and the creative. There’s music, there’s atmosphere, there’s a sense of calm where you can just relax, be yourself and have a good meal for a good price.”
MacTaggert said that if there’s one thing he wants out the experience, it would be turning fear into comfort.
“University, man, it is a scary place,” he said. “A lot of kids here are from different countries. From small towns, big cities, little communities in Europe, South America, Asia. Some live in residence, some commute two hours. For first-years or people new here, it’s a lot to take on. I want them to just be able to feel safe and have a spot they can call their own.”