fresh-baked politics at Heartland Cafe Rogers Park, Chicago

In 1976, when Heartland Cafe opened, there hadn't been a safe space in Rogers Park for "lefties" (self-named "progressives" now) to hold political discussions. Two activists created the café to do just that. Now, over 40 years later, the restaurant/general store/bar/music venue is undergoing renovation while vowing its political and artistic engagement to the community. "We've made major changes every three to six months," Heartland Cafe owner and organic grower Tom Rosenfeld said, adding that the menu, which hadn't changed in 15 years when he took over in 2012, now swaps every six to 12 months. Monthly "First Monday" meetings on issues affecting the community, 100 percent certified organic produce, spoken word open mic nights, debate parties and even a little bit of live opera, funkily combine to form the heart of Heartland Cafe.

A heartland bartender installed this artwork.
From artwork to First Mondays, Heartland Cafe has taken an active role in supporting immigrant rights and protecting vulnerable populations. They just had a meeting in February on this very issue, and will be organizing an event on the 1st of next month, May Day, to bring organized labor issues to light.
"Once the (2016 presidential) election happened, it just exploded," Rosenfeld said of the monthly political meetings. "It's not too good for business because it's so crowded," he laughed. "We couldn't really serve people."
Heartland Cafe held a watch party of Barack Obama's Farewell Address on Jan. 10 2017.
"We straddle both," Rosenfeld said of heartland's role as both political hub and business.

Heartland Cafe is not a sports bar. Its football games are news shows and Live from the Heartland, a radio program for folks in the community to talk politics, culture and activism. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and former Senator Barack Obama were guests on the show. Heartland Café isn't a "No shirt, no shoes, no business" kind of establishment either. They don't have a "NO PUBLIC RESTROOM" sign outside, because just about anyone on the street is welcome to use it, whether they buy something or not. "It's a humanizing way of running a business," Rosenfeld said.

Even with its serious commitment to political activism, Heartland Cafe is a calming, naturally-lit refuge and what customers often call a "safe space." The kale caesar salad, pictured above, is a reminder of its other commitment to healthy and simple food.
Earth First Farms, also owned by Rosenfeld, provides much of the certified organic produce to Heartland Cafe. Certified organic squash, strawberries, apples and other fruit and veg are available seasonally.
The cafe often teams up with local businesses, like Chicago-based Metric Coffee. A range of food (many vegan-friendly), hygienic products, sage and incense, community papers, bulk items, and more are found in the general store just off Buffalo Bar.
Find Heartland Cafe at 7000 N Glenwood Ave., just off the Red Line Morse stop.

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