A longtime Valley favorite serves up fresh, vegan entrees with a side of ’70s idealism
At the entrance to Follow Your Heart Market and Cafe in Canoga Park, there is a white stone pillar that says in four languages, "May Peace Prevail on Earth." For mothers (and fathers) accustomed to day-to-day family battles over eating healthy, the little cafe at the back of a cozy neighborhood market may well be a much-needed peace zone. Everything on the menu is good for you, good for the planet and actually tastes good, too.
The cafe calls its style of cooking vegetarian and vegan comfort food, and the portions are generous. For most items, there is a choice of dairy or nondairy. They don’t use eggs, and they use organic fruits and vegetables, when possible. For breakfast, there are hearty buckwheat pancakes, a rich, filling breakfast burrito made with tofu, or gluten-free pancakes with fruit and nut toppings.
Lunch options include the popular vegetarian Reuben, the nutburger — which perfectly evokes the sweet/salty tastes of a traditional burger — and crisp whole wheat pizzas with a choice of fresh toppings. The cafe is particularly proud of its soups, and there are always three types on the stove — creamy, vegan and low-sodium. Desserts, all made in-house, have their own brightly colored white board and display case. The seven-layer chocolate raspberry cake is vegan and staggeringly good, as are the blondies, brownies and cookies. There are gluten-free muffins and sweets as well as dairy and nondairy shakes and floats.
Serving animal-friendly fare long before it became hip, Follow Your Heart opened in 1974 the same Sherman Way location it inhabits today, and it still bears the sweet old-school charm of that decade. The unfinished wood walls, hanging historical photos and employee-created artwork lit by an energy-saving skylight give the place a comfortable, small-town feel. In the black-and-white photo behind the counter, the four long-haired, bearded young men who founded Follow Your Heart beam peace and a friendly welcome, all the way to 2012.
Two of those founding owners, Paul Lewin and Bob Goldberg, were Jewish boys from Chicago, one the son of a clothing store owner and the other of an inventor, who had returned from the brutality of Vietnam determined to create a different life for themselves and their children here in Southern California.
They started helping a friend work the juice bar at a little health food store in Canoga Park. When their avocado sandwiches and vegetarian soups drew lines out the door, Lewin, Goldberg and two others took over the store and established Follow Your Heart. By 1976, they had outgrown the original space and, with financing arranged by a loan officer who was a fan of the Love Plate (still on the menu!), they moved to their present location. In 1986, Goldberg and Lewin bought out the other two partners, and today they continue to work together, happily pursuing their dream 40 years later, along with their significant others and several Goldberg and Lewin adult children.
Ryan Lewin, Follow Your Heart’s general manager, is there Monday through Friday (and, because he lives just two blocks away, he sometimes comes in to eat on the weekends, only to find himself drawn back into work). His green eyes light up when he talks about the family business, the benefits of vegetarianism and their mission to keep the food affordable so it remains accessible to everyone in the community.
Community is an important word at Follow Your Heart, just as it was in the era the market/cafe opened. Lewin points out longtime employees, bulletin boards displaying photos of generations of loyal customers and fliers advertising local events.
He said they want to create a place where people who care about one another, what they eat and the world in which they live can gather at the tables or long communal counter inside, or on the patio, to share good food and each other’s company. A big, harmonious family. Peace, if not on Earth, then at least at the table.
Follow Your Heart Market and Cafe. 21825 Sherman Way Canoga Park, CA 91303. Hours: 8:00 am – 9:00 pm daily. 818-348-3240