A fond goodbye to the Heartland Cafe

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Michael James and Katy Hogan, the original owners of The Heartland Cafe. | Sun-Times Archives

Harold Washington thought they should call it “the Unity Cafe.”

This was when Washington was running for mayor in 1983 and the most racially diverse crowd you could imagine had squeezed into the Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park to cheer him on. He looked around and marveled.

The Heartland was like that, for all its 43 years, and we’re going to miss it. It was good for this town.


Demolition crews started tearing down the Heartland’s tired old building this week, ending any talk that the restaurant might reopen, at least not in this space. Something new will go up on the corner of Glenwood and Lunt, and that’s not all bad. It’s a prime location in a promising arts district anchored by Lifeline Theatre.

But we’ll miss the “good wholesome food for the mind and body,” which is what a couple of lefty activists, Michael James and Katy Hogan, promised when they opened the joint in 1976. And we’ll miss the live music, poetry nights, political rallies and radio show.

Most of all, we’ll miss the community vibe, this feeling that everybody was welcomed as long as they understood that everybody was welcomed.

James and Hogan ran the restaurant for some 36 years, and then Tom Rosenfeld took it over, feeling like the caretaker of a beloved institution. Being beloved, though, didn’t pay the bills and the building needed a lot of work.

Rogers Park was a little edgier in 1976, and progressive politics were a little out of style. The Sixties were over and disco was big. Maybe this wasn’t the best time to open a community center posing as a restaurant.

But James and Hogan did, not caring a whit about getting rich anyway, and they created a world in a building, and we thank them.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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