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Why I’m Optimistic about the New Deal Cafe

posted in: Arts/Entertainment

Last summer we reported on how the New Deal Cafe is weathering the pandemic., With life starting to resume here in Greenbelt, it’s time for an update.

What We Miss

Like so many Greenbelters and music-lovers across the DMV, I miss live music at the New Deal Cafe – award-winning live music. That’s what’s brought me to the Cafe two to three times a week for the nine years I’ve lived in Greenbelt. The many ways I’ve loved it is a topic for another post.

And the Cafe is so much more than a music venue. For me and so many others, it’s our “third place,” where we hang with friends, meet new people, hold small meetings, go after movies or live theater, and so on. The Cafe brings life and community to the wonderful but underused Roosevelt Center, which has been sadly empty for over a year.

Honestly, my first fear when the shutdown became real (besides catching covid) was that the Cafe might not survive. But in the spirit of 2021, a hopeful, optimistic year if there ever was one, I can report that the Cafe IS surviving, and looks to be better than ever. Here’s what I’ve learned from attending Cafe board meetings via zoom and reading its terrific monthly newsletter. This is me speaking as a member and regular customer – not officially for the Cafe.


Thanks to donations and pandemic-related help from local, state and federal governments (some grants, some loans), the Cafe has the funds to stay closed for now and open partly until live music indoors is feasible. Fund-raising is still important, as a way to reduce the debt load the Cafe may be left with when the pandemic is really gone. So worst case, debt. Not closing.

To quote the March New Deal newsletter, “We’re still alive and kickin! That’s no small accomplishment, considering the long and growing list of restaurants, bars, and music venues that have permanently shuttered due to the pandemic.” Thank God!!

Thanks also – in a really big way – to the Cafe leaders who’ve found and taken advantage of every imaginable source of help, especially Dorian Winterfeld, Amethyst Dwyer, Michael Hartman and Mark Cheater. Hearing Dorian’s treasurer’s reports in the monthly meetings, I’ve grasped what a daunting, overwhelming a job that is – applying to so many entities, keeping track of deadlines and the details of exactly what each bit of money can be used for and when, et cetera. Mark told me that one grant application alone took him 30 hours to complete. To which I say OMG, and THANK YOU for your service!

New Food Vendor

The Cafe’s structure as a member-owned coop creates all sorts of challenges to its running smoothly as a business, especially in its relation to its food vendor, the last few of whom haven’t worked out. The last ones left in November of 2020 and the search began again, by people I know and consider a pragmatic, serious bunch. So I’m optimistic about the results this time.

The Cafe wisely advertised for a food vendor on Craigslist and a restaurant-specific site (as recommended by restaurant insiders), and the result was about 75 applicants to choose from. Also there’s been plenty of time – while the pandemic is raging and the Cafe was closed – to do the vetting carefully. Gradually they winnowed down the applicants to just three, for more intensive interviewing and reference-checking, and we’ll soon know the identity of the final choice.

(The Cafe wisely rejected member Peter May’s demand – during board meetings and in a 4/8/21 letter to the News Review – that they open up the selection process to the entire community, letting us all vote by commenting on the finalists. Can’t imagine that process going smoothly!)


More good news is that when the Cafe reopens it’ll truly be better than ever because it’s taking care of long-overdue fixes to the admittedly somewhat shabby building. Getting the renovations done while the business is closed is just smart.

  • The floors have been restored and I’m told they look gorgeous.
  • There are new, more sound-absorbent ceiling tiles and energy-efficient lighting already in the front room, and now the same improvements – plus a fresh coat of paint – are being done in the back room.
  • The back bathroom is getting a total redo, thanks to a member-donor.
  • To support the renovation project, click on the “donate” button. on the Cafe website.

Such investments in the Cafe’s infrastructure increases my optimism about its future – that there will be one, and it’ll look better!  Again, it’s meant a TON of work by the Cafe’s Board and other committed supporters.

New Arts Coordinator

Chrissy Wilkins has done a fabulous job bringing art, artists, and art events to the Cafe and I was worried when I heard she’s moving to China to teach art there for two years.  Oh, no!

But before stepping down from her volunteer job with the Cafe, she found the perfect replacement – Shaymar Higgs! Shaymar is the creator of The Space – Free Art for All and is on both the city’s Arts Advisory Board, and Greenbelt Online’s Editorial board. He’s got the talent, energy and people skills for the job. To quote the Cafe’s newsletter, “Shaymar takes community development and creative-placemaking very seriously, with over 12 years of bringing the arts directly into communities.” Yay!

Reopening When?

The Cafe has already gotten permission to have live music, but with such restrictions as to numbers and distances (including from the band to the audience) that very few people would be able to see the stage. So it’s likely that we won’t see live music there until fall (or later?) but I expect we’ll enjoy food service there this summer.

By the way, Amethyst Dwyer, the Cafe’s music coordinator, mentioned during a board meeting that she’d requested from the county permission to hold live-streaming events from its stage during the lockdown, but the county had repeatedly rejected the request.

(To me, the much greater disappointment has been the Greenbelt City Council’s unwillingness to allow live music in Roosevelt Center – or anywhere – during the shutdown. Other cities in the region have somehow found ways to help their music venues survive.)   

Are you a Member?

If you’re not already a member, now’s a good time to join, in advance of the Cafe’s membership meeting on Sunday, June 7 at 1 pm (via zoom). Members will hear an update on Cafe news and vote for all five board positions and all three audit committee members. – Click here to join.

Can’t wait for fun gatherings like this Day of the Dead event to return to the Cafe!



Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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