Nick Van Seggelen is a passionate guy. Give him a few minutes and he’ll talk your ear off about photography, the Exchange District, and how proud he is of the recently opened Bodegoes location at 211 Bannatyne.
“The Exchange is home,” Van Seggelen says of deciding to keep the restaurant in the area after new landlords caused the closure of the 98 Albert Street location in 2017, the eatery’s home since 2001. A member of the Bodegoes leadership team since 2011, Van Seggelen has been instrumental in rebranding, running the Exchange location (there are two others at Shaw Park and Cityplace), and focusing on marketing and event management.
“We like to call (2001) the wild west, when safety was a big issue down here,” he says. “Those times spurred a lot of projects. Our Dinner and a Movie promo started in 2004, something we started with Cinematheque, and it grew to the Towne 8 and The Globe (RIP). That was just small business trying to work with small business to try and stimulate people downtown.”
That program is still active, and one of many Van Seggelen doesn’t see ending anytime soon, just like his time in the Exchange.
“Since I was able to drive, I always found myself coming to the Exchange,” he explains. “I’m a big believer in ‘to know where you’re going, you’ve got to see where you’ve come from’. The heritage and the architecture of the early 1900s gives inspiration to us, and we pay homage with this new location, which is inside (the former) J.H. Ashdown Hardware Company. This building, 211 Bannatyne, was the retail store to the warehouse, which was just down the street from where the Ashdown lofts are.”
On the wall behind the prep counter (where you can watch Van Seggelen and his team whip up your favourite noodle boxes and more) is a giant picture of Old Market Square from 1910. “We understand the area’s been here for a long time, and we want to show where we came from and what it was all about. That’s what we’ve always believed in, and that’s why we’ve put a lot of energy into staying down here and try to build the area as much as possible.”
Moving into the old Ashdown building meant creating a whole new space, and saying goodbye to a few features of the old Bodegoes (and hello to a few new menu items).
“It was a refresh, a restart, it really got us interested in the build again,” he says of renovating the space, which now features beautiful hardwood counters and tables, as well as bathroom walls covered in vintage newsprint and posters of the early 1900s Exchange. “We came into the space, we completely gutted it from the top down and recreated it in what we thought was a warm inviting space for our old customers, and inviting and modern enough for new customers.”
The new location had no capacity for fryers, which means losing such Bodegoes classics as chicken fingers and fish & chips, but it also means new menu entries, including delicious flatbread pizza.
“There are a few new menu items, we never take something off unless we have to,” he says, noting the ordering process has also changed slightly. “For example, the noodle boxes we’ve stripped down to a vegetarian, and you add a protein if you want it. This streamlines it a bit more and gives the customer a little more control over what they’re getting with what flavour.”
The restaurant isn’t the only space that Van Seggelen is keen to improve. He, along with Mike Del Buono of King & Bannatyne, the BIZ, and the City of Winnipeg, have been instrumental in turning Old Market Square into a year round facility with a skating rink set up for curling and hockey.
“It took a couple years of trials to prove things could happen there, but this year… if I were to draw out my vision for the original concept, it would look pretty much as is today, with the lights draping, all that stuff. The curling, the skating, the only thing missing is full-time music to round out the atmospherics of the whole thing.”
Van Seggelen, a member of the Exchange BIZ Board of Directors for three years and a graduate of Red River College’s Business Administration Program, has also helped to plan and run various summertime community initiative events at Old Market Square, including the annual Jets Home Opener at the CUBE and a screening of the Tragically Hip’s final concert.
“We had 1,000 people in the park and approximately another 600 people outside the park,” he says of the Hip event. “We raised $15,000 for the Sunnybrook Foundation on behalf of (late Hip frontman) Gord Downie.”
Somehow in between all of these projects, he’s carved out some time to renew an old passion – photography.
“I always had a passion for it, I just didn’t have time,” he says. “In junior high I was the yearbook photographer, and I really enjoyed it. Anytime I picked up a friend’s camera or my phone I always seemed to capture something, I was told that I had a good eye for certain things. As someone who is usually organizing an event or trying to run the business, it’s hard to find time to actually sit down and dedicate yourself to something.”
After some friends gifted him his first camera a few years ago, he hasn’t stopped taking pictures (and buying lenses).
“For me, the photography side of things is a creative release outside the restaurant, it inspires me to do other things” he explains. “It’s neat to show people my perspective of the same old scene that many people have seen or that photographers have tried to capture. But if you can put your own spin on it, it just showcases who you are. I really believe that a photograph isn’t just a photograph, it’s telling a story. That aspect fires me up. I’ve always been one to think that if you have a job that pays you and a hobby that can also make you money, then you’re doing okay.”