Heartwood Cafe cultivates community in Mount Pleasant
Cooking with heart
When the beloved Rhizome Café closed its doors in 2013, Mount Pleasant neighbours wondered what would become of the place on Broadway and Kingsway. Rhizome was known for its welcoming, queer-inclusive, kid-friendly environment. With its bookable meeting room, calendar of events, and warm interior, it was a well-loved gathering space for the social justice set. In winter 2013, Heartwood Community Café opened in the former Rhizome space. Today, the friendly neighbourhood bistro is a hub for healthy, affordable meals and a sought-after menu item known as Soup for the People.
Megaphone recently sat down with Heartwood’s community development manager Melanie Matining and general manager Ana-Luz Cobon. We talked about how Heartwood is strengthening the roots that Rhizome planted and their plans for new growth.
On Rhizome’s legacy:
“Rhizome was open for eight years and did amazing things for community-building in Vancouver. When they closed, they called out to different communities saying, we want this space to continue to be centred on social justice. One group they askedwas Trinity United, part of the United Church. The United Church owns the space and provides so much support—financial and emotional. The United Church has a really good history of activism. We have a lot of gratitude for their support.”
-Melanie Mataning (MM)
“I grew up in the United Church and used to be the chef at a United Church business on Gambier Island. This is my neighbourhood. I grew up the daughter of a queer parent.”
-Ana-Luz Cobon (AL)
On why queer spaces matter:
“I knew Rhizome as a queer space. I grew up in North Van and went to Victoria for school. Whenever I came back to visit I would be like: there are more queer people here than in Victoria as a whole. I felt at home. It was so inclusive and welcoming.”
On justice, not charity
“There are a bunch of awesome community cafes [in Vancouver], and we never want to compete with each other. At Heartwood, we’re unique in that our vision is to create a space that nourishes social justice and liberation. One way we do that is with Soup for the People. It’s based on food security, the idea that food must be accessible. It’s a beautiful way of being able to break bread, even if you’re not doing it by sitting at the table together. We can eat with dignity together and provide for each other.”
“Soup for the People isn’t charity, but community collaboration. We use quality ingredients and team up with local suppliers to create [a soup] that everyone can access, whether you can pay 10 cents [for a bowl], or 20 bucks. It’s pay-what- you-can. We wanted to offer a physical, tangible piece of who we are. The soup changes all the time. It’s always vegan and gluten-free so it’s accessible to everyone.”
On urban agriculture in a changing city:
“One thing we’ll try to do to continue the cycle of food security is to connect more with local urban agricultural organizations. It’s not only about chopping up food and providing it, but also about food production and people working in those industries. Figuring ways it can come full-circle. Sometimes it’s hard. We’re super low in resources. It’s always a struggle to figure out how we can continue as a community-centred business.
“Gentrification is coming closer and closer to Mount Pleasant. Even if lots of community services come with that, there's still the property value shockwave. We’ll be swept up in that. It’s tough, but at the same time, it’s another chance to work together.”