ROGERS PARK — Days after announcing the Heartland Cafe would close, the cafe’s owner confirmed Monday that the site is in the process of being sold to developer who plans to build a residential building on the site.
Owner Tom Rosenfeld listed the lot at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. for sale on Craigslist months ago. Rosenfeld told Block Club Chicago he alerted his staff in the spring to the probable sale of the building, and had updated his workers at each new turn in the process.
“But it’s never real until it happens, you know?” he said Monday.
As Rosenfeld predicted, the building that has been home to the Rogers Park cafe for 42 years received attention from potential buyers “far and wide,” though he declined to say which developer will take over the property. The process could take up to a year or more, he said.
The plan for the restaurant’s location will most likely include the development of residential units along with commercial space on the first floor, Rosenfeld said.
“We talked about what their plan is and…they seemed pretty community-minded, so they seem a little flexible to what would go on in the building,” Rosenfeld said. “And some desire to have continuity with the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, so some kind of arts use — but they haven’t been specific, and I think it’s too early for them to know.”
Rosenfeld stressed that while he can’t say with absolute certainty if the next owner will build condos or rentals, his belief was that potential new units would be apartments, in-line with other new and upcoming properties in the neighborhood.
“In general, everything in Rogers Park right now is rental — I don’t think there’s any intent on doing condos,” he said. “But, to be clear, I’m not the developer. I think it’s rental.”
While the lot hasn’t officially sold, Rosenfeld said there is a closing date scheduled for the first week of January.
Rogers Park or Bust?
In October, a notice of default was filed against the property by Rosenfeld’s mortgage company, an early step in the foreclosure process.
“Certainly there are reasons we’re selling the building, and part of that is to pay off our mortgage,” he said. “There is definitely a legal process that has started. It’s not accurate to say there’s a foreclosure going on, but there is a legal process that has started.”
It’s still possible that the Heartland Cafe may be able to return to its former corner after the new building is erected, Rosenfeld said, but in the meantime he plans to look for a new location, preferably nearby.
“It’s just not clear. It’s not clear if there will be a spot for us in that building or not,” he said. “We continue to talk to the developer, and we’re hopeful, but we’re just not sure, so we have to figure out our long-term options elsewhere.”
“I don’t want to keep moving around. If we walked out with a long-term lease then we would just find a new place for a couple of years.”
Rosenfeld said he was also open to finding a new permanent location for the Heartland that was not at its original corner, so long as it’s “the right situation.”
One thing was certain, however: The plan is to hopefully stay in Rogers Park.
“That’s our desire, that’s our home,” he said. “That’s where we’re focusing our efforts right now.”
The issues causing the cafe’s sale have to do with the business’s physical space and subsequent upkeep that make it challenging to keep running as-is, Rosenfeld said.
“It’s hard to simplify, but it’s changed,” he said. “It was operating inside that building, it is very hard. There is such a constant need for maintenance, which means money, and time, and energy — just a lot of obstacles, things we cannot do in that building because of the layout. It was never meant to be a big restaurant, it’s 10-11 individual storefronts that we’ve cobbled together over the years.”
Not just that, but the once “high, high-volume” cafe has slowed over the years, too, he added.
“We just don’t have that volume anymore,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s a very competitive world today, and we have this huge inefficiency.”
Still, it’s been those supporters who have kept the Heartland going through its glory days and now into its roughest patch, he said in his email to supporters Friday.
So far, the “outpouring” of support has been “both heartwarming and sad,” he said.
“We’re getting a lot of messages from people who have had their first date with their now spouse at the Heartland,” he said.
On New Year’s Eve, the restaurant’s final day, Rosenfeld said the Heartland will close at 5 p.m. for a private holiday party current and former employees can enjoy. Between Christmas and New Year’s, he hopes to hold another event the public can take part in.
Heartland Cafe opened in 1976 and has a colorful past: Former President 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 served as a hub for political and social organizing.
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