Vegan slingers: Joel Capolongo, left, and Nick Ryan, owners of Strong Hearts, have established a wee-hour haven for hungry vegetarians. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
But that extra little pang of newfound
love is from the fact that all your dairy-free, organic-leaning,
locally grown, ecologically packaged concerns are being met. The
all-vegan menu's options generally aren't too bad for your body, like
the café's name says. And the kicker? You could take your grandmother
"Our target audience is the average guy
on the street, not hardcore vegans," says Joel Capolongo, who owns the
café with Nick Ryan. "We wholeheartedly appreciate the support from
that community but strive to appeal to people who may not even know
what the word vegan means."
So far, it appears they're succeeding; try to find the dining area empty, ever.
Near-constant business has earmarked their long daily hours, which
stretch to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and begin at 8 a.m.
weekdays. Just 11 days after their May 21 opening they’d sold 689
milkshakes, a blog at www.myspace.com/strongheartscafe reports. At the
basic level, it’s hard to find a better option for fair-priced, honest,
filling food, even if it’s breakfast at midnight.
“One of things that Nick and I discussed
when planning the business was to make sure we were open later so there
would be a vegan option past 9 p.m. in Syracuse,” says Capolongo. “We
didn’t want to make vegans go to Denny’s and get french fries any more
simply because there were no other options in the later hours. We’ve
done very good business past 9 p.m.; some Friday or Saturdays, we still
have customers in the café near closing time.”
And yes, vegan diets often preclude
those midnight French toast cravings, as this reporter can attest—which
may or may not explain the café’s breakfast-any-time-of-day option.
Still, no “egg-trick” muffins (like Egg McMuffin, get it?) or tofu
scrambles can be had from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday nights, when pizza
takes over the regular menu. Convincing cheese alternative Teese and
loads of veggie options await those who typically can’t or don’t
partake in Acropolis or Nick’s Tomato Pie fare.
The café, fittingly, is about halfway
between downtown and the Syracuse University area; a small wooden
foldout sign outside lets you know you’re there. The name Strong Hearts
is both conscious marketing toward passers-by—a strong heart means a
healthy heart!—and a nod to respected animal rights activist Rod
Coronado, who self-published a periodical of the same name years ago.
Coronado, explains Capolongo, co-opted the term from Lakota warrior
Crazy Horse, who at the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn called for
“strong hearts, brave hearts to the front!”
Inspiring words, especially for
Capolongo and Ryan, who had little experience to draw from in bringing
the restaurant idea to bloom. “We’ve been forced to learn as we go,”
says Capolongo. “Trial by fire, so to speak. But fortunately we haven’t
had any large issues to deal with yet. And we’ve come a long way in one
month and improve our methods and efficiency on a daily basis.” No more
keeping the ice cream cooler near the stove, in other words. And they
have hired an early-morning food preparation person, to save time
during business hours.
In keeping with their ideology, each of
the 16 milkshake flavors (made with Temptations soy ice cream) is named
for a social revolutionary of some sort, from the coffee Che Guevera to
the green tea Tiananmen Square Guy. And beside the menu link at
www.strongheartscafe.com is a mission statement that incorporates
admirably lofty lingo a la “resuscitate a dying planet.” Below it are
bios of Ryan and Capolongo, two longtime vegans who simply wanted to
open a place they’d like to go to themselves.
“We wanted a fully vegan option in
Syracuse and realized the only way we’d ever get it, and have it be
done right, was to do it ourselves,” says Capolongo. “There have been
very few vegan restaurants in Syracuse in the past and the ones that
have been attempted have never stuck around too long. We knew we could
make it happen and have it be successful if it was done right.”
The cafe grew from seed of an idea to
open for business in less than six months, which says a lot about
Capolongo and Ryan’s work ethic. Twenty-hour workdays haven’t been
uncommon, and that’s with a staff of five helping them out.
“Once we committed to opening the cafe,
we worked non-stop on realizing our goals, from driving all over the
Northeast to acquire good used equipment to securing finances to
fine-tuning our business plan,” says Capolongo. “We’ve never worked as
hard or as long in our lives but we have already been rewarded with a
strong outpouring of support from our friends and the community as a
Free wireless Internet and a decent
coffee selection will be assets when students return this fall, so
don’t look at their marathon hours as beginners’ fervor. Says
Capolongo, “If there are any changes to be made in the way of hours, it
would be closing even later, not earlier.”
Current hours are Mondays, 8 a.m. to 6
p.m.; Tuesdays to Thursdays, 8 a.m. to midnight; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 2
a.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sundays, 10 a.m. to midnight.
Visit www.myspace.com/strongheartscafe or www.strongheartscafe.com, or
call 478-0000 for more information.