Heartwood Community Café in the Heart of Mount Pleasant

Article and Photographs Provided by Laura Shortt

Looking for a place where you can grab some amazing food and a delicious cup of coffee all while supporting social justice? Then look no further than the Heartwood Community Café, where social justice is being served up to the community one delicious bite at a time.

Located at 317 E Broadway in the heart of Mount Pleasant since September, 2013, Heartwood Community Café is a truly revolutionary restaurant that’s combining vegan, organic and gluten-free food together with community involvement and activism.

I enter the café on a gloomy morning to learn a little bit more about the place.  Outside it’s damp and grey, but when I open the door to the restaurant and cross the threshold I’m immediately enveloped by warmth and the aroma of home cooked food.  The floorboards gently creak under my feet as I walk towards the counter in a way that only a floor in a space with aged character can.

I examine the menu overhead and everything looks delicious- and surprisingly health-conscious.  The menu includes everything from sandwiches to entrees to salads.  Some of the yummy offerings include a peanut coconut bowl (which includes sautéed red pepper, broccoli, kale, tofu, pickled cabbage, and sesame on rice or greens), kale Caesar salad (which is a house cashew Caesar dressing tossed with fresh kale and toasted herb chickpeas) and an eggwich (a free range egg, smoked Applewood cheddar, greens, pepper mayo, and tomato on a ciabatta bun) among many other options.

As I sit down with the café’s Community Development Manager, Melanie Matining, she tells me that the ingredients used in the menu are local and fresh with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. There’s also a brunch menu offered on weekends from 10 am to 3:00 pm that includes dishes like vegan French toast, gluten-free/vegan banana pancakes and wild salmon benedict (as I learn about all the different menu options, I make a mental note to come back as many times as necessary to try each and every one of them).

But as I get talking with Melanie I realize that making amazing health-conscious food is only one aspect of what Heartwood Community Café is about.  Social justice is an intrinsic facet of the café’s business approach (for those who have only heard the term in passing, social justice can be defined as promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity).  In tangible terms, this means that Heartwood Community Café is always thinking about ways to better serve the community around it.

According to Melanie, an important element of this revolves around the idea of “access” especially of the emotional variety:

“emotional accessibility is important to us at Heartwood, or rather the ways in which we can make a space feel like home for people, especially those who might feel marginalized.”

This means that all members of society are welcomed with open arms at Heartwood Community Café (the café is a queer-inclusive space as well), even those who may not be able to afford the price of a meal.

This leads me to what is perhaps the most innovative idea I’ve heard of a business supporting in years.  The café offers a soup option called Soup for the People.  It’s a community supported menu option which welcomes everyone and asks that people pay what they can in exchange for a bowl of soup. The soup is not only intended for individuals with low incomes, but is accessible to anyone who wants to take part.

“At Heartwood we believe in challenging usual charity models that focus on top-down relationships. Here, we want to focus more on community collaboration and creation. Here, we want folks to eat with dignity. The idea with this part of the menu is that a person gives what they can in exchange for soup,” says Melanie. “If that happens to be a dime or $20, or paying it forward to their own communities. We just want to encourage ways we can strengthen communities and break bread with one another.”

In addition to offering superb food and a place of respite for those who feel marginalized, the space is also a gathering place for some very interesting community events, which vary from live music to lectures by social activists, to queer salsa nights (and everything in between). And there’s even revolutionary storytelling time for children every Friday at 11 am.  The space also hosts art exhibitions and encourages artists of all levels, especially those who identify as queer, trans, gender non-confirming, two-spirited, being of colour, Indigenous, and/or disabled.

As the interview concludes and I get up to leave, the café’s moto on a nearby menu catches my eye.  It reads: The key ingredients to a strong community are full bellies and full hearts.  I realize that I’ve never encountered a business that is more committed to the welfare of others as Heartwood Community Café.  As I leave the warmth of Heartwood Community Café and exit into the wet, damp street outside, I’m already thinking about when I can return to not only get some delicious food, but to also support a little social justice in the process.  See you there!

If you’re curious to learn more about Heartwood Community Café you can find them online at:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/heartwoodcommunitycafe
Twitter: @HeartwoodCC