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Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Written by Meghan Kelly
Photo courtesy of Mike Heslop on Facebook
Mike Heslop is the backbone of a local café you might have heard of: Kafe Kerouac, ( the best coffee shop north of Lane Avenue. How did it all come about, and how did such a small place remain open during these harsh financial times? Mike’s answer, “I’m stubborn and I don’t like to give up.” Really, is there any better business plan than that?

After graduating from The Ohio State University, Mike bartended at the airport while playing music and writing on his own time. That is when he got the idea to open a café’… but this wouldn’t be the standard coffee shop, instead there would be books, games, records, and beer.         

“I had this idea to open a café which would be a place that wasn’t just a coffee shop, but also a bar and bookstore. A place where artists and writers go to hang out, that was the original concept.” Mike

            Mike envisioned a place where everyone would be welcome to hangout, share ideals, ideas and debate. Think of a typical Parisian café gathering spot for artists and writers in the early 20th century; now change that French to English, throw in 50-80 years of progression and what you have is Mike, and Kafe Kerouac. How did the vision become a reality?

The cafe opened in May of 2004, as it took about a year and a half to go from conception to actually being open. Since then, the space has been forever changing and evolving. For instance, after a year they expanded into the room next door, which had been originally used as an extra study and additional storage space. 

            “The second room provides a muting between the rooms; it’s like a sound proofing. So in the front room people can be reading or studying and the sound of maybe a play next door doesn’t disrupt. Plus you have that great ambiance by having books around. We added track lighting for the stage; we added a larger P.A and bigger mixing board. So now we can offer more, and cater to a bigger audience.” –Mike

            What type of crowd will you find at Kafe Kerouac? Just about anyone. You’ll find mostly 20 something grad students working or studying, and the occasional vagabond just passing through. However, what is most noticeable, are Kafe Kerouac’s strong supporters - people will drive across the city regularly to come back and work here. Many customers have developed a strong sense of loyalty, and seem to feel as though they are a part of the coffee shop success.

            “We are considered the ‘hipster hangout,’ the disenfranchised middle class white kids who ride up on their bikes with their tight jeans and All Stars. Those people are great but I never meant it to evolve to one group or social group, that wasn’t my vision, I just wanted a mix of people who are looking to express themselves.” –Mike

            To succeed in the middle of recession (upon recession) Mike keeps his prices low, buys local and has friends that routinely help out. To some it may feel ‘clique-ish’ but Mike and his employees work hard at trying to make everyone feel welcome. I having been going to Kafe Kerouac since about the time they opened and in that time, I have never felt anything other than welcome.

            Mike is not very political, but Kafe Kerouac stands out as a leftist place and so he ends up working as a middle man between heated discussions a lot of the time.  It’s a creative way to go grow academically, to be surrounded and a part of scholarly conversations.

            “Typically coffee shops are known as a meeting place to discuss current issues. I can’t find anywhere else in town that matches the type of intimacy we provide. So after about 5 years it is finally turning into the space I had wanted.” –Mike

            It has been a learning experience, but making a lot of money was never the idea. Instead as a place that provides people a platform, Kafe Kerouac has succeeded.

Every week:
            - Tuesday is game night
            - Wednesday night features poetry slams brought to you by Writers Block.
            - Thursday night is Comedy night.
            - Local musicians and fundraising groups often use the space on Friday night.

Once a month, Kafe Kerouac has a ‘First Draft Poetry” event, which normally has a theme.

Scott Woods, Writers Block Poetry
            “It’s fun to see a group or person start out here and then watch as they sign with a label and their careers really take off.”Mike

            When Mike isn’t behind the counter you may see him onstage with the “Shazzbots” a kids musical group that Mike started out with some friends. They played over 50 shows last year and are on track to put out their 2nd album in 2012. ( A newer project Mike is working on, called the “Black Ties,” is a rotating group of his musician friends. Everyone gets a song list the day of performance and they wing it. It seems as though Mike is like the energy bunny, he just want stop.

            Over the years Kafe Kerouac routinely transforms itself to meet the needs of students, artists, musicians, spoken word or live theatrical plays, and the wait was well worth it. What started out as a one room coffee shop with a few desks and comfy over-sized chairs, now presents itself as a living room (set up to the left), books lining the walls and a classic record collection (to your right).  This adds to the ambience Mike strives to create. Inspired by the people who perform, Mike takes their suggestion and is routinely moving furniture, books and records to change the physical scene and to make things a little better and flow more smoothly. 

            If you are looking for a place to relax, Kafe Kerouac can provide you with that. If you are looking for a place to hold a meeting, Kafe Kerouac can provide you with that. If you want to hear some quality local music and eat some local goodies, Kafe Kerouac can provide you with that. You get the picture. If you’re looking for any or all of that, head to Kafe Kerouac @ 2250 N. High Street and Northwood

Special Thanks
Mike Heslop, Kafe Kerouac


Jacob R Clark said...

great piece. i love kerouac. my only bitch, and mike knows this, is the carpet of cigarette butts in the sparse green spaces out front. a real ecological eyesore. but mike knows this, because i have actually gone out there and cleaned them up, picking them up one by one myself! other than that, great venue and unique for columbus. better than the laptop cafe near my place that is full of screen starers. you'll find them here, too, but you'll also find people actually communicating face to face, engaging in conversation. and the poetry slams are da bomb!

jacob r clark

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