A Short History of the New Deal Cafe

The Community Center Era

For years, Greenbelt residents caught up on old news and greeted their neighbors in such places as the produce aisle of the Co-op grocery store and the gasoline station. These are not the ideal locations for extended philosophical debates and lively games of chess. Greenbelt was in need of a coffee house.

Perhaps the idea for a cafe was spurred on by a vacant space (later filled) at Greenbelt’s Roosevelt Center, which seemed perfect for such a meeting place.

Early on in the planning, the coffee house was dubbed the New Deal Cafe because the Works Project Administration, a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal, built the city of Greenbelt.

This being a town with cooperative housing and a cooperative newspaper, grocery store, and nursery school, it was fitting that the cafe should be organized in the same tradition. It would be staffed with volunteers and directed by a member-elected board, and it would use the goods and services of other cooperatives wherever possible.

To see if the New Deal would really work, an open house was held for one day, on November 5, 1994. Over 600 people showed up to support the project.

Since then, a group of volunteers worked hard to open the New Deal’s doors, and on December 30, 1995, the cafe opened right next to the Roosevelt Center in Greenbelt’s Community Center, a freshly renovated New Deal-era building. The Cafe opened Friday and Saturday nights. Finally, Greenbelt had a coffee house – a place to go after a movie or play; to pass the time and have a light meal, a really great dessert. Free live music made the combination even better.

Our Own Space

In October of 1999, a storefront space came available in Greenbelt’s Roosevelt Center. Coincidentally, this was the same space which had inspired the drive to open the cafe in the beginning.

After three and a half years as a part-time cafe, the board decided that the time had come to open the New Deal as as a full-time venture.

In April 2000, following an incredible amount of volunteer labor hours and energy, the dream was realized when we at last saw the opening of the “new” New Deal Cafe. In the years that followed, the Cafe fulfilled the vision that began in 1995, although becoming fiscally viable and keeping the doors open in the Center was an ever-present challenge that required enormous efforts by the staff, managers, Board of directors, and volunteers.


In early May of 2005, the owner of Roosevelt Center contacted us and asked if we would be interested in renting the space behind the cafe. He explained that there was a possibility that the current tenant would be leaving. Although the increased rent would further challenge the Cafe financially the potential to better serve the growing customer base and finally realize the dream of outfitting the Cafe with a real kitchen made this an opportunity the Cafe embraced. The New Deal Cafe you visit today includes this expanded space.

Plan to join in and add your fresh ideas, hands and resources to make this great harvest and another wonderful community based business, a true stone soup. We hope to see you there soon for a delicious meal or dessert and—oh yes—a decent cup of coffee.

Collaboration with the Greenbelt Co-op

In May of 2021 the Cafe signed an agreement with another venerated Greenbelt cooperative – the Greenbelt COOP Supermarket and Pharmacy. So after a long pandemic shutdown, the Cafe re-opened in the summer of 2021 with  food and beverages provided and served by staff of the Co-op, under the direction of its general manager Dan Gillotte.

We at the Cafe along with the entire community are excited and optimistic about this historic alignment of cooperatives, with its expanded hours, expanded food and beverage offerings, and a Greenbelt identity that’s stronger than ever!

Become a member to support the cafe and get a vote at our membership meetings. Better yet, join the board or volunteer!