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Rogers Park’s Heartland Cafe Seeks Help For Survival

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Heartland Cafe

The front entrance to the Heartland Cafe, at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. in the Rogers Park neighborhood. (2004 File Photo; Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) - For more 30 years, the Heartland Café has offered healthy dining and kept the spirit of 1960s counterculture alive in Rogers Park.

But now, the beloved restaurant, bar, gift shop and performance venue is fighting for survival, and is asking the public to help raise money to keep the neighborhood institution alive.

The Heartland Café has anchored the northwest corner of Lunt and Glenwood avenues since 1976.

But for regulars, the atmosphere of the space conjures images of the 1960s, with its organic food, sustainable products, and the stack of left wing political magazines at the front door. Honey bears and bottles of tamari sauce are found at the tables alongside salt and pepper, and an entrée is likely to have brown rice, tofu or buffalo meat. Health conscious diners, everyday Rogers Parkers, and hippies old and young come in search of what the Heartland describes as “good wholesome food for the mind and body.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich calls it “the last bastion of Chicago hippiedom.”

But now, as Schmich pointed out in her column, patrons of the restaurant found a letter in their menu warning that the restaurant “has arrived at a crucial fork in the road in terms of our financial survival.”

The letter, which is also printed on the restaurant’s Web site, says a severe cash flow crisis over the past two years has placed the Heartland in an “ever-deepening hole.”

Due to increased bank charges and overdraft fees, money needed for operating expenses has gone directly to the bank, and the bank will not lend the café money to help them out of the situation.

The letter says the Heartland needs $50,000 right away for state taxes and the two-year city licenses for food, liquor and outdoor dining. Another $50,000 will be needed to get through winter 2010-2011, the letter said.

“Our long-range goal is to raise a million dollars to assure that this 34-year-old neighborhood business (and unofficial community center) is around to celebrate its 35th Anniversary in August 2011,” the letter said.

The plans for the coming year include a green roof with a greenhouse for herbs and vegetables, a fireplace for the winter, and numerous other improvements, the letter said.

But in the short term, the situation is dire, according to the letter.

“To be open for business next month, and alive and well for our 35th anniversary next summer, we desperately need your help and support right now,” the letter said. “We have been here for thousands of people and hundreds of organizations. We need you to be here for us now.”

The Heartland is planning on using several methods to raise money, from seeking direct donations and offering gift certificates, to seeking long-term loans and simply asking customers to “continue patronizing our wholesome foods restaurant as often as possible, and encourage others to do so, too.”

A fundraiser is also planned for Monday and Tuesday, in which musicians will play and patrons will get in for $10, Schmich wrote.

The Heartland Café also operates the Red Line Tap and the Heartland Studio Theatre, located in the Heartland building around the corner from the restaurant at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. The Heartland also owns the No Exit Café, a historic beatnik coffeehouse and performance venue about half a block south at 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.

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