Strong Hearts Cafe, Syracuse NY

Reprinting here the text of an article on the newest VEG*N cafe upstate. I went there a few weeks ago after the Syr Veg Fest – great atmosphere, great ‘milkshakes.’  Although, unfortunately, that’s when I discovered that I am *allergic* to soy, after downing a giant chocolate cherry shake.

Read on ———————-

Men Open Vegan Cafe
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
By Michelle Breidenbach
Staff writer

The menu says, “Nobility lies in actions.”

For a long time, noble actions for Joel Capolongo and Nick Ryan meant protesting outside fur shops and chasing whaling ships around the frigid waters near Antarctica.

Now, action means mixing up a batch of muffins before the 8 a.m. crowd arrives at the Strong Hearts Cafe, the new vegan restaurant they opened at 719 E. Genesee St., Syracuse. The two have poured their bleeding hearts into bowls and blenders.

They met through animal-rights activism while Ryan, 24, was studying psychology and music at Syracuse University and Capolongo, 31, was a manager at the OfficeMax in Fairmount.

Together, they protested outside Georgio’s Furs in downtown Syracuse.

They chose to fight fur because they thought it was something people could grasp more easily than food. No one could make an argument that they were wearing a fur coat for sustenance, they said.

The two adhere to the straight-edge philosophy. They don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. They also don’t eat meat or dairy products. They’ve been vegans for almost half their lives.

Late last year, they were eating tofu cream cheese bagels in a Queens restaurant. It was comfortable, well-lit and friendly.

“We looked around and thought, if this place was in Syracuse, it would kill,” Capolongo said.

That planted the seed.

But after that, they did everything else backward.

First, they found a place to rent. Then, they wrote a business plan. With competition for the lease, they did not have time to figure out how to ask the city or state governments for grants. They came up with money from their own savings and from family and friends.

Then, they planned the menu. It would not include pad Thai or burritos or the other options available to Syracuse vegans, usually one at a time at each ethnic restaurant.

It would be all vegan, not just vegetarian.

That means no animal products; no milk, cheese or eggs. They would use mock meats and soy-based products, such as Teese brand cheese.

Nothing would be fried.

They would cook the comfort food they eat at home. The only restaurant work experience between the two of them is the time Capolongo washed dishes at a diner for about two months at age 15 and Ryan worked in an SU dining hall for about a year, filling drinks and washing tables.

The night before they opened the cafe doors to the public, they practiced cooking on their friends.

At first, it seemed easy, heat stuff up and put it on bread.

But they quickly learned, for example, that breakfast burritos take too long to cook for the masses. That lasted only one day on the menu.

A “chicken” salad whipped up on the fly with mock chicken and vegan mayo worked, however, and has become the most popular sandwich. Some of their milkshake flavors — no milk included — were made for the first time and handed to customers without a test taste from the chef.

They serve breakfast all day — pancakes, waffles and French toast. There is a tofu scramble described on the menu like this: “Think scrambled eggs but less gross and more yummy.”

For lunch, there are fake turkey, phony bacon, marinated tofu and roasted veggie sandwiches. There are soups, salads and side dishes such as chipotle potato salad.

Their MySpace page is filled with people craving a milkshake. In the restaurant’s first 11 days, they sold 689 milkshakes. They come in flavors called the “Che Guevara” (coffee), the “Tiananmen Square Guy” (green tea) and “Team Hoyt” (dreamsickle flavor.) It’s named for the father/son marathon team Dick and Rick Hoyt. Dick Hoyt pushes and pulls his quadriplegic son Rick through marathons, triathlons and over mountains.

“It shows that true love is possible and love that deep is possible,” Ryan said.

They incorporated their personal heroes and other symbols of their lives into all parts of the restaurant.

Strong Hearts implies healthy eating and that’s OK with them.

But the name really comes from the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, who is said to have said, “Ho-ka hey! It is a good day to fight! It is a good day to die! Strong hearts, brave hearts, to the front! Weak hearts and cowards to the rear.”

It also has to do with another animal rights activist Capolongo and Ryan consider a hero: Rod Coronado. Coronado spent time in federal prison in the early 1990s for his animal rights activism. He has helped sink Icelandic whaling ships and burned down an animal research lab at Michigan State University. He wrote a publication from jail called “Strong Hearts” that is out of print but still circulates among militant grass-roots animal rights activists and environmentalists.

Capolongo spent 30 days in a Georgia jail after he was convicted of disorderly conduct in a protest at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, on the Emory University campus. He said he has spent many nights in jail in Syracuse for protests and civil disobedience.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s extreme,” he said of the activism that landed him behind bars. “I think it’s my responsibility to take action. Silence is complicity.”

Ryan said he doesn’t have any exciting jail stories. But he grew up feeling isolated in Weedsport farm country, where he objected to the methods farmers used to raise animals for food. At Syracuse University, he said, he found other like-minded people and started organizing speakers and joining protests.

Capolongo and Ryan admire people who try to change the world in big ways.

They also see that as their responsibility.

But they talk in more humble terms about their current work. They describe themselves as “two dudes with a fork and knife.” They like to make food and play no-limit Texas Hold’Em.

And they take pleasure in small moments of change.

They said their concoctions have persuaded three people to go vegan.

“To me, that’s the ultimate reward, when people make that connection that I made a long time ago,” Capolongo said. “As far as activism goes, this is probably one of the most effective things I’ve done.”

– Syracuse Post-Standard

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