Strong Hearts has the goods

Ten years ago, Syracuse-born Joel Capolongo was making headlines that his parents probably weren't clipping out for their fridge.

"Animal Rights Protests not 'Kids' Stuff' Anymore," reads one from 1996.

"Convicted Teen is a Terrorist, Prosecutor Says," reads another.

Capolongo has seen his name on many a police blotter as a young activist and Animal Defense League member. His politics have taken him from county courthouses to Antarctica seas and Georgian jails.

Ten years later and still a committed vegan, one of Syracuse's most vocal activists is back on the scene. Since opening Strong Hearts Caf (c) at 719 East Genesee St., the only vegan restaurant in the upstate region, 31-year-old Capolongo now sports a chef's hat where a balaclava might have been, and slings sandwiches instead of spray cans.

But achieving his dream doesn't mean he's traded his renegade spirit for the nine to five. Rather, he calls the new caf (c) a platform for his beliefs.

"It's an extension of my activism," he said, having established the restaurant as a leader in sustainability, health, and animal rights outreach in the few short months it's been open.

Emily Mietz, Capolongo's girlfriend of two years, offered her own spin on his life's new direction: "It's a higher level of activism," she said. "He's still in the public eye but it's not as in-your-face."

Co-owner Nick Ryan agrees.

"He's always done what he wanted, and that's still what he's doing now," he said.

"It's symbolic of the changes he's making," said Justin Pellingra, who spent 45 days volunteering at sea with Capolongo in 2006. "It's his leap into doing something 'grown up' in the traditional sense, but it still combines all the things he believes in," Pellingra said.

Through Strong Hearts, Capolongo has branched "way beyond" veganism by supporting local businesses, promoting healthy living and making green product choices, Pellingra added. Capolongo's eye is trained for detail, and his friends commented on him being thoughtful right down to the small things.

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