The building housing the Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park, known for its hippie feel and vegetarian and vegan options, is up for sale after being open 42 years, but owner Tom Rosenfeld said he’d like to see the restaurant remain in business.
The Heartland Cafe, Heartland Studio Theatre and the Red Line Tap are housed in a 100-year-old building on Glenwood Avenue near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. The Heartland Studio Theatre has been used as a yoga studio, workout studio and community meeting space, but is used primarily for rehearsals for local theater groups, its website said. The Red Line Tap often hosts live music performances and the Heartland Cafe serves as an organic local market and restaurant.
Rosenfeld, who lives in Rogers Park and farms organic produce in Michigan which sometimes appears on the Heartland’s menu, said there are two options for the space.
A developer could buy the building and develop it for apartment buildings, in which case the Heartland Cafe would offer to be the first floor tenants and continue operating under Rosenfeld.
In another case, a buyer could purchase the space and become the owner and operator. This would likely mean the Heartland Cafe would be run by the new owner in a similar way to Rosenfeld running the restaurant after buying it in 2012 from its original owners, Rosenfeld said.
Motivated mostly by what he said were financial issues that come with keeping up an old building, Rosenfeld said he would choose whichever option works best for the community.
Rosenfeld said he doesn’t have a specific asking price because he wants to find the right owner.
“We’re kind of open, and that’s why we don’t have a price on it,” Rosenfeld said. “There’s so many ways someone could look at this property, so we’re saying we want people to look at it and find their value.”
According to the Craigslist listing, the space is available immediately.
Rosenfeld bought the 9,600 square-foot space from its original owners, Katy Hogan and Michael James, in 2012, according to the restaurant’s website. Rosenfeld has been the owner and operator since then.
James also said he sold the Heartland Cafe for financial reasons, though he didn’t put it up for sale in the same way Rosenfeld did. James said he approached Rosenfeld and asked for a loan, which evolved into Rosenfeld buying the space.
Rosenfeld said the restaurant and Loyola have had a deep connection over the years, with many students attending the Heartland on first dates. The restaurant also features the bleachers from the 1963 NCAA basketball championship, Rosenfeld said.
“[It’s] a place that many Loyola students, particularly those who want the freedom of … expression and lifestyle that comes with a place like the Heartland and also comes with a place that’s farther away from campus,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s a place where people of a particular mindset can come and be together.”
Rosenfeld said as Rogers Park evolved, the Heartland evolved too.
“We’ve grown and evolved as a reflection of the neighborhood as well as part of the neighborhood,” Rosenfeld said. “A lot of people come here from nostalgia. A lot of our nostalgic people are people that come through Loyola. They come back for a reunion and they want to have brunch at the Heartland because that’s what they did when they were in school.”
Many political candidates have spoken at the Heartland during its 42 years open — including former President Barack Obama and former Chicago mayor Harold Washington.
James captured then-42-year-old Obama on camera in February 2004 at a campaign rally for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He spoke alongside Aldermans Joe Moore (49th Ward) and Harry Osterman (48th Ward), who was a state representative at the time.
Washington spoke at the Heartland just days before winning the democratic party primary, James said.
“That was truly a wonderful event,” James said. “The place was packed inside, it was packed outside, Harold Washington is … people should pay more attention to him historically.”
The Heartland has become a well-known political hub in Rogers Park, and James said this was no accident. While he was teaching at Columbia College Chicago, James said a class he taught on social change inspired him to found the Heartland and make it a place for people to congregate and discuss politics.
“We wanted to create a place that would allow us to serve the community, provide people with some income and that those people would have time to do political work,” James said.