CHICAGO — The Heartland Cafe restaurant and its building are up for sale.
The cafe, an icon in Rogers Park for more than 40 years, was listed as being for sale in a post on Craigslist. The price for the 9,600-square-foot, single-story building is “negotiable,” according to the Craigslist post, which notes the lot at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. can be redeveloped and contain up to 33 units.
Heartland owner Tom Rosenfeld said he is offering would-be buyers two options: Those who want to redevelop the space can do so, but must keep Heartland as a first-floor tenant with Rosenfeld as the restaurant’s owner; or a buyer can take up the restaurant and building together.
“What we’re doing right now is taking a few steps to try to make sure that Heartland can survive, that Heartland stays open, that we can preserve the institution side of Heartland,” Rosenfeld said. “I’m not sure what that future looks like. … We have done everything possible, including this, to ensure Heartland doesn’t close.”
Rosenfeld expects the restaurant will remain open in the future, though he said it might need to move or be temporarily closed if the lot is redeveloped.
Rosenfeld said it was difficult to make the decision to sell Heartland, but he can’t keep maintaining the building and restaurant and wants to ensure the iconic spot can stay around.
“I go to bed thinking about Heartland, I’m up in the middle of the night thinking about Heartland, I wake up thinking about Heartland,” Rosenfeld said. “The idea that I have to acknowledge that someone might be able to do this better than me, or that there just needs to be a different model, that I can’t solve this puzzle given the current variables — that’s really distressing.”
The news has concerned community members, said Thom Clark, who runs the Live from the Heartland radio broadcast that operates out of the restaurant. Clark is worried if the building is sold and redeveloped, even if the restaurant is allowed to stay, the Heartland won’t be able to survive several years of construction on the lot.
“I am personally concerned to see a community icon potentially shut down, even if it reopens,” said Clark, who’s owned a home in Rogers Park for 28 years and has been familiar with the Heartland since it opened in 1976. “Building a new building takes a couple of years, and any kind of restaurant enterprise often has trouble sustaining its customer base if it’s closed for that long.”
Residents are also worried the loss of the iconic restaurant could signal changes in the neighborhood: If the Heartland is shuttered, it would mean Rogers Park loses some of its “unique character” and it would be a “clear and present” signal the neighborhood is going “upscale like Lincoln Park,” Clark said.
Redevelopment and more housing units could also put “upper pressure on rents,” Clark said.
“Rogers Park wouldn’t be what it is today without enterprises like the Heartland Cafe,” Clark said. “To see it possibly go away is indeed a significant change in the neighborhood.
“… It would be a real loss if it indeed moves on.”
The restaurant has a colorful past and is beloved by locals: Barack Obama, then 42, once held a rally there for a political campaign; Rogers Park residents gathered there to celebrate the turn of the century on Jan. 1, 2000; and the restaurant has been a hub for political and social organizing.
“If you’re worried about Heartland Cafe, come and eat,” Rosenfeld said. “It doesn’t do any good to sit down and lament the loss of a restaurant from your kitchen. The best way people can support their neighborhood institutions are to go shop at them.”
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