Ex-Calgary Flame aims to help small businesses and build community in Vancouver
Long before John Negrin became an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry, he learned a very important lesson in food safety from none other than Jarome Iginla.
Negrin was a 19-year-old rookie defenseman for the Flames and was sitting on the plane chatting with other teammates when a plate of Rice Krispie Squares was dropped on the table in front of him. Unbeknownst to him, the Iginla team captain, who was sitting nearby with headphones on, was keeping a watchful eye.
“I grabbed a square during the conversation and kind of put it back on the set,” Negrin recalled, before launching into a full impression of the Flames legend, a big smile and all. “And [Iginla] Come on, Johnny, what are you doing, man? Don’t put that back there!
Negrin grew up on the North Shore and was drafted by Calgary in the third round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (an experience he admitted was a bit strange after growing up as a fan of his hometown Canucks) . He then played three games with the Flames and spent most of his career in the AHL before finishing with the Manchester Storm of Brtain’s Elite Ice Hockey League.
During COVID, Negrin returned home and found himself not only without a job, but without a career. “Getting out of hockey is daunting,” says Negrin, who did a masters in digital business at the University of Salford while in the UK. “It’s the only thing you’ve known all your life. Turning the page and starting from the bottom is really difficult.
Negrin signed with a North Vancouver-based website designer Media House of Hope as an intern in the company’s business development department. He played a major role in bringing the food trade biz Transport of legends as a client and eventually became close to the founders. With this experience, he began to work on an idea to build a community on the many empty lots of Vancouver that were left right there.
“I just started exploring it, contacting the city council and seeing if anything could be done on those lands in the city,” he recalls. The powers that be were interested in Negrin doing Something. It went through a few iterations, with the end result being a 20-foot service trailer with a 70-person patio, currently located in Place des Nations until development on that site progresses in about two years.
The Batch serves food from other local businesses and craft beer in the shadow of BC Place Stadium and officially opened this week. Negrin hopes to have food trucks like Salty’s Lobster Shack come on a night rotation basis.
“It’s not something new – living in Europe, you see this stuff everywhere,” says Negrin. “During my career, I’ve played in many small towns where these local businesses, whether it’s a brewery, a bakery or a coffee shop, were just the heart of the region. It’s so hard to do that in Vancouver where the rental rates are not accessible, so I’m just trying to support them.
Sitting here in the glow of Vancouver’s two biggest stadiums, it looks like Negrin is happy to be where he is. “The pressure is enormous,” he says of his time as a professional athlete.
“I don’t know if I managed to do it fully, I don’t think many can. What people see from the outside isn’t really what’s going on in the room. A lot of these guys are struggling and they’re going to fight. It’s a competitive space. The really successful guys are the small number of guys who can just have fun and have fun.