Cupcakes for Courage New Elmhurst Store is All About Cupcakes—and so Much More
When asked how many hours a week she works, Laura Pekarik answered, "Who's counting"?
Never let it be said that a cupcake is just a cupcake.
A cupcake can help fund a cause, add to a wedding celebration or simply cheer someone up.
Cupcakes get Laura Pekarik out of bed in the morning—3:30 in the morning, in fact—every weekday. She gets up plenty early on weekends, too. The only thing more impressive than Laura's cupcakes is her work ethic.
While most 26-year-olds admirably are getting their feet wet in the corporate world, Laura, at 26, is running a company. In fact, she may be on the verge of a cupcake empire.
Those who have tried the gooey, one-of-a-kind creations by Cupcakes for Courage say they are impossible to resist. But a lot of people in Elmhurst haven't had the chance to try them yet.
That's because, while Laura bakes them right here in town in the back room of Brain Freeze at 110 W. Park Ave., cupcake lovers can only get them by special order or from the "green machine" Laura drives around the streets of Chicago. Brain Freeze usually has some cupcakes on hand for sale, too.
Brain Freeze and Cupcakes for Courage were a perfect match, because really, what does an ice cream parlor need with ovens? The partnership was orchestrated by the building's owner, Frank Sibre, in May 2011, and the move was instrumental in the launch of Laura's career.
"He gave me the opportunity for a low-rent space to make the cupcakes," Laura said. "It's such a risky thing going into business for myself. It was scary, and when you have big bills it's even scarier. He's been a source of advice and connections and information that I can't put a price on."
Time for the Next Step
Courageous Cupcakes will open Monday, Sept. 24, at 108 W. Park, in the shop formerly occupied by Serene Teaz. Laura will be moving all operations from the tiny kitchen next door to the much larger kitchen and shop. She plans to do some of the baking right in the middle of the dining area so patrons can see how it's done.
Plans also are in the works for demonstration parties, where groups can learn how to bake and decorate the goodies themselves. And, merchandise will be offered for sale, including the tie-dye apron Laura wore on "Cupcake Wars."
As for the food offerings, there will be lots of bakery items—not just cupcakes—made from scratch on site.
The shop will be open for commuters at 6 a.m.
"We'll get more and more into it, but right off the bat, we'll cater to commuters with breakfast pastries, different types of scones, breakfast breads, brownies and cookies," Laura said, adding breakfast sandwiches will be offered on biscuits, english muffins and croissants.
She eventually plans to offer brunch on weekends, and lunch daily.
She's hired a pastry chef, but Laura is hands-on.
"We're working on croissants now," she said. "They're very labor-intensive and require a lot of technique, so I've really been working on that. I, myself, have to know how to do it. I need to experiment. I need to know why things work."
Can't Be Everywhere
She said over the past year she has had to learn to delegate some of the responsibility, but that hasn't come easy for her.
"I never thought I'd be here," she said. "A year ago I had this conversation with my mother and grandmother, who told me, 'You have to let people do things.' I said, 'I can't. I'm not ready.' Then it got to a point where I had no choice. I was just running myself ragged."
Help is needed now even more, as the potential for new business is unlimited. She and the green machine have to turn down events from time to time.
"You can't be everywhere," she said. "It's difficult, and it kind of weighs heavy on my heart sometimes."
At the shop, a staff of five to seven will join the ranks and allow Laura to continue selling 200 or so cupcakes a day off her vehicle in Chicago. She still will offer 45 flavors, even though people keep coming back for their favorites: pink velvet, turtle and anything banana.
"My favorite is the peanut butter banana," she said.
And, she still will continue the catering and pre-order side of the business, which can require her to bake as many as 500 or more cupcakes at a time.
A portion of sales from all those cupcakes, no matter where they're sold, are donated to a number of charities. The charity she's most associated with is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society because her sister Kathryn was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T-cell Lymphoma back in 2010. She also donates to the Ride Janie Ride Foundation.
As the business becomes more self-sufficient, Laura plans to get more involved in the charities to which she donates, particularly LLS.
"I look forward to being able to go to these big nights for LLS, work, help out and volunteer," she said. "It's going to come a little bit at a time."
With new product comes new opportunity for another food truck, Laura said.
"I would like to get another, smaller truck to offer the pastries and doughnuts," she said.
Does she ever rest?
"People say, 'You're always working,' " Laura said. "I guess I don't feel like it. I love what I do, and it needs to get done. I was never really a person to sleep in on the weekends."
And she knows, with hard work, cupcakes can move mountains.
They can launch a career.
They can put a smile on someone's face.
They can smile back. (OK, they can't smile back.)
But, never let it be said that a cupcake is just a cupcake.