The fate of Heartland Cafe, a longtime pioneering vegetarian-leaning restaurant and community gathering place in Rogers Park, is uncertain as its owner has put its building up for sale.
In an ad on Craiglist posted Aug. 27, owner Tom Rosenfeld touts the 9,600-square-foot building on a 70-foot-by-173-foot lot as "rare chance to own a restaurant/bar/theater or redevelopment site in Rogers Park. The price is listed as “negotiable."
The ad also notes the arrival of Target, the launch of a 50-unit Pritzker-backed development at on Morse Avenue and the opening of the Sheridan Road Hampton Inn as “just a few of the new developments defining the neighborhood."
Organic farmer Rosenfeld, who had a long career in the corporate world, bought Heartland from founders Michael James and Katy Hogan in 2012. The restaurant, which opened in 1976, has been home to political gatherings, live music, spoken-word poetry and a weekly radio show. "From the time it opened in 1976, the restaurant became a hub for bohemian progressives,” a RedEye columnist wrote in 2016. “Countless artists, musicians, writers and activists found their way to the Morse stop on the Red Line and passed through the Heartland as a sort of pilgrimage."
Heartland also has a bar and natural foods market.Rosenfeld’s Earth First Farms is a certified organic fruit and vegetable farm in Berrien Center, Mich. Reached by phone at the farm today, Rosenfeld said there were “no plans to close” the restaurant, but he acknowledged that changes could be coming.
"It’s been a long time coming," he said of the sale. "I’ve been battling this building for years. It’s functionally really having problems operating. I've put all the capital in the building that I can. I have no more. It’s an old building. There’s a never-ending list of issues to address. So I have come to the conclusion that in the current configuration I can’t operate the business," he said. "Someone might come along with a few extra bucks, maybe smarter than me, who can run it," he said.
It’s not the first time the restaurant has been in peril. In September 2010, Heartland was "precariously close to shutting its doors for good," its owners said in a statement emailed to media, asking for public support to keep it alive.
Rosenfeld said the building and site are being offered two ways: “The first way is an interesting and potential development site, and it would involve, based on zoning, a first-floor commercial tenant.” That tenant could be Heartland, he said, while acknowledging that decision would be up to the new owners. If not, he said, “Heartland would have to find another location."
He added: "This is more of a real estate problem than a restaurant problem."
Rosenfeld's involvement with the restaurant is also in flux, he said: "If somebody were more interested in buying the restaurant than the building, obviously that’s a change for me," he said.
He said there are no offers yet, but "lots of interest, evenly split" between people interested in the site and people interested in the business. "Places like Heartland don’t re-create themselves every day," Rosenfeld said. "We hope that something good happens."
The Heartland's owners gave a tour of some of their historical photos in a video produced in 2012 (below), saying in it that the inspiration for their cafe came from "personal struggles to live in health and a social conscience articulated in 'Diet for a Small Planet,' a book by Frances Moore Lappe."
And WTTW's "Check, Please!" interviewed cafe patrons in 2007, asking them what the restaurant meant to them. "It's got a great atmosphere. I think it's really representative of the neighborhood," one reviewer said.
DNAinfo Chicago in 2017 wrote about the cafe's history with former President Barack Obama, who in 2004 rallied at the restaurant during his U.S. Senate campaign.
This article reposted from Crain's Chicago Business. Original article here