Breanna O’Toole greets me on the second floor of the University Club of Santa Barbara with the warmest smile. The Club is also known as the Riviera Mansion for Weddings, and O’Toole’s office there gets a lot of sunlight. Decorated appropriately in all white, and with a romantic poster of the Eiffel Tower hanging across from the desk, it’s the perfect setting for meeting with a Marketing and Events Director who handles all of the many weddings that take place at the Club. There’s a sense of warmth and elegance as we tour the whole building and end up at the dining room for lunch. Breanna tells me that what’s special about having a wedding at the University Club is “the feeling of having your wedding at a private home. Guests really feel comfortable.” Breanna herself is charming company. “I always liked planning events,” she shares with a smile. “Getting involved with people on happy occasions – I find that rewarding.”
Born in Ventura, Breanna graduated from UCSB in 2008 with a degree in communications, but her dream of being a reporter was quickly snuffed. While doing an internship for KEYT and helping Tracy Lehr with some tough stories, she understood that emotionally, she wasn’t cut out for that career. In 2009, she went for an internship at the University Club to assist the Wedding director and instead she was offered to work as Members Services Director. She loved the environment and working with the members.
After her husband (who is also from Ventura) proposed, she relocated to where he was working in San Diego and got a job at that city’s “University Club atop Symphony Tower” doing membership, marketing and sales. The newlyweds eventually moved to Orange County, where Breanna worked for Jay’s Catering Company doing weddings.
But still Breanna and her husband longed to move back to Santa Barbara, and in 2014 she got her dream job as the Events director at the University Club. “I love the sense of community we have in Santa Barbara,” she says. “Everyone here is so friendly, and you feel you can accomplish things here.”
Breanna was a party planner since early childhood. She recalls every year as a child she’d love to plan her birthday party. She’d start 3 months in advance. She organized her own wedding. “It was so much fun and so easy,” she delightedly tells me.
On average, the Mansion gets 5-6 weddings a month, but last October, they did ten. “I love the challenge of the details,” she explains. “Most brides and I become really good friends. Being part of somebody’s most important day is very special.” I ask her what is the most challenging aspect of what she does, and she responds that so many family members have different opinions and sometimes she’s caught in the middle. “I’m good at keeping everybody calm,” she tells me. “You have to constantly be organized.”
Her passion on the side is cooking. Once a week she writes her blog “Bree’s Pretty Pantry.” Her recipes are all made with fresh natural ingredients, and she’s turned her garage into a photography studio to take food photos.
In her free time, she volunteers as a teacher for the Food Bank’s “Kids Farmer’s Market” program where she gets to show kids fun ways of cooking with fresh produce.
Breanna answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Honestly, it’s probably getting the opportunity to be the Director of Events here at The University Club of Santa Barbara. When my husband and I first moved to Santa Barbara it was a challenge breaking into the industry and there certainly were times when we were unsure if we were going to make it living here. I’ll never forget the day that I got the job, it was so exciting and such an honor to achieve such a position and be a part of its growth. In addition to weddings, I love contributing to the local business and non-profit environment.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Julia Child. She was a rebel, an amazing chef, and she fought for women’s rights. One of my favorite quotes of all time is “It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. That’s what human life is all about – enjoying things”-Julia Child.
What do you like most about your job?
I have always loved planning parties from start to finish. I love envisioning the detail and the creativity aspects as well as the menu planning. There is something very gratifying about being able to see the wedding or event through to the end, and how every little detail ties together. I also love the relationships I get to build with my clients. It’s an amazing feeling to be such an important component of a couple’s wedding day, or even to be a part of a successful corporate event. Helping people on important days makes me happy.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Traveling the world to discover new dive spots with my husband and spending time with my family. I also consider the kitchen to be my “Happy Place.” I love cooking, baking, and creating new healthy recipes for my blog. I find cooking to be very therapeutic and a great creative outlet.
What is your greatest fear?
Jumping out of an airplane…scary!
Who do you most admire?
I would have to say a mix between my mom and my grandmother who I call “Nani.” My mom has taught me how to have fun and live life to the fullest; I hope to be a mom just like her some day. My Nani has been my career role model. She has taught me how to be professional and how to always reach for my dreams. She turns 80 this year and is still rocking it!
What is your greatest extravagance?
Pottery Barn. I have a real problem with pillows, mirrors and vases. I love to decorate and re-decorate my house for all of the seasons. My husband always comes home and says “Not another pillow?!”
What is your current state of mind?
Motivated and excited for everything that 2017 will bring.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Genuine people and people that have a great sense of humor.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Negativity and intolerance. It’s hard to be around people that are talking down to others or being negative for no apparent reason. It’s such an infectious quality and negatively impacts those around us, both directly and indirectly.
What do you most value in friends?
There are a few things I value in my friends. Openness and honesty are the most important. My good friends are the ones I can tell anything to without fear of judgment, whether it’s something good or bad. I also find so much value in a strong sense of adventure and great sense of humour.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My authenticity. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but I can’t help but laugh and be myself.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Certainly”…I find myself overusing it on client phone calls all the time.
Which talent would you most like to have?
One day I would like to be talented enough to have my own cooking show like Rachael Ray.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would say that sometimes I can be overly empathetic. I can’t watch the news because it makes me too sad.
Where would you most like to live?
I feel fortunate to get to live in the place that I consider the best city in the world, here in Santa Barbara.
What is your most treasured possession?
Photos of my travel adventures and fun family memories.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My husband, Casey. He is the most fun person I know. We are always laughing and playing jokes on each other.
What is your motto?
You can do anything if you put your mind to it and never stop dreaming.
On what occasion do you lie?
Oh gosh! Well, I really try not to… but I guess I would to cover for someone who is really important to me.