Slice of Life

Strong Hearts cafe is donating half of proceeds to nonprofits that embody ‘humanity, community and love’

Jackie Barr | Staff Photographer

Every month Strong Hearts will choose a a non-profit organization to donate proceeds to. The January recipient is Vera House, a central New York-based organization that aims to end to and aid victims of sexual and domestic violence.

Strong Hearts Cafe on Monday had its busiest day yet since opening up shop on E. Genesee Street in 2008. That’s more than 3,000 days in operation.

Then the vegan eating establishment gave away half of the proceeds from the day’s sales.

It’s all part of the cafe’s new social justice charity program. Each month this year, Strong Hearts will donate 50 percent of one particular day’s proceeds to a certain local nonprofit they believe make the community a better place. January’s recipient was Vera House, Inc., a central New York-based organization that since the 1970s has aimed to put an end to and aid victims of sexual and domestic violence.

Strong Hearts co-owners Nick Ryan and Joel Capolongo announced the plan in a Facebook post on New Year’s Day, saying they’ll partner with organizations that “embody the ideals of tolerance, compassion, equality, respect, humanity, community and love.” For them, the lost profits are a small price to pay in an effort to help the community that has given their business a home.

“For eight and half years we’ve been working to get to the point where we feel stable enough to devote time to doing a day like this,” Ryan said.

Selfless efforts like these aren’t anything new to Ryan and Capolongo. In fact, they’re what brought the two business partners together in the first place.

Capolongo joined the Animal Defense League shortly after graduating from high school and led the charge against furriers and animal experimentation in Syracuse. His passion for animal rights then took him around the world — he started an ADL chapter in Atlanta, worked in Los Angeles and spent time in Australian and Antarctic waters combating illegal Japanese whalers with an organization called Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Ryan became involved with the Syracuse Animal Rights Organization in 2003 while he attended Syracuse University. Somewhere along the line, he met Capolongo, who moved back to Syracuse to be with family. They both had been vegans for years, and decided to open up Strong Hearts together.

Even as businessmen, Ryan said the goal has always been just as much about making a difference as it is about making money. He and Capolongo realized because of 2016 and its political results that many Americans are “experiencing a wide range of emotions.” And so, enter their social justice charity program.

“It wasn’t like something just popped into our head, but something really that has been building since we’ve known each other,” Ryan said. “We both met doing activism, we’ve both always been involved in making the world a better place, so it always made sense to do something like this.”

Ryan said the turnout on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was exactly what he had expected. By getting to know their customers over the years, he had a feeling they, too, would be people that could get behind a worthy cause. To see it actually happen, though, was very humbling and encouraging, Ryan said.

Vera House, as expected, was very appreciative of the donation, Ryan said. They’ll receive a bit more, too, when Strong Hearts on the Hill — the café’s second location in Marshall Square Mall — will have its own day with proceeds going to Vera House this Saturday, Jan. 21.

Strong Hearts hasn’t officially decided where the money will go in February, but that they’ve had productive conversations with a few different parties. Wherever it ends up going, Ryan was confident the program will continue to be a success as the months go by.

“It benefits us, it benefits them, and it benefits the community above all,” he said.

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