Jeff Podogar co-owns Germantown Espresso in Maplewood Mall with Miles Butler. He’s the “other guy” who’s always in the shop. Podogar is a relative newcomer to Germantown: he’s been here five years. So, who is this Jeff person? He’s a self-described “huge history nerd and architecture nerd, so Germantown is like heaven for me.” It seems that Germantown is the perfect place for this community-based social justice activist.
The burning question — how does someone who describes his parents as “Midwestern conservative Catholics” morph into a social justice advocate? Jeff’s activism was born because of his Catholicism, not in spite of it. Prodogar said that “Jesus is like, hey, be good to everybody.”
Prodogar was 14 when he began to question the separation between what he was taught in school and what he saw being practiced around him. His questions earned him detention and he was told that he was weak in his faith. A defining moment came when he questioned the validity of confession and the practice of priestly intervention with Jesus. Prodogar said “Well, I thought I could talk to God whenever I wanted.”
Prodogar just didn’t remember Jesus creating the confessional. He boycotted confession and detention followed, as usual. Jeff says “There’s Jesus’ teachings and there’s the modern day Catholic Church.” He is a strict religious constructionist and his beliefs and questions require him to be an activist. He never stopped asking why.
Prodogar studied history and philosophy at Temple and likes to quote Walt Whitman, who he considers to be one of the first progressive American thinkers. Prodogar, too, can be quiet and thoughtful at times, but he’s not a go-along to get-along kind of guy.
“Having opinions and not saying them out loud is kind of contradicting my schooling.” His Catholic school experience pushed him to ask why more often. He is a strong believer in, as he says, “speaking your mind.”
Prodogar wants conversations to be out loud so that everyone can hear and know the issues that touch the community. He knows that small businesses can have a direct effect on community involvement. “Don’t be quiet about stuff. We have bar seating here so people will talk in public, out loud,” he said.
My final question: How does it feel to be living your dream? Prodogar thinks “It’s awesome and amazing and terrifying and exhausting all at the same time.”