One of Oak Park’s most visible storefronts – the northeast corner of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street – will soon have a new occupant, filling the void left by the closure of Red Hen Bread earlier this year.
Laura Pekarik told Wednesday Journal she’s shooting for a mid- to late-August opening for her breakfast and lunch restaurant Courageous Bakery & Café.
It’s the second location for the business, which opened its first storefront in downtown Elmhurst in 2012.
Courageous is more than a business, though – it also is committed to helping in the battle against cancer and donates 10 percent of all proceeds to cancer-related charities.
The philanthropic ethos of Courageous was spurred by her sister Kathryn Chandler’s battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010 and 2011.
Pekarik said she had long made cupcakes for her family and friends and would bring them to the nurses in the hospital as her sister recovered from cancer, but she didn’t sell them until the end of 2010, when she held a fundraiser for her ailing sister’s expenses.
Pekarik was pursuing a business degree when Chandler got the diagnosis in May of 2010.
“[The diagnosis] changed everything,” Pekarik said, noting that she took a year off of work to help with her sister’s recovery.
She also made a big gamble – dropping out of school to use her tuition money to buy a food truck for her first business, Cupcakes for Courage and the Green Machine.
The cupcakes and other baked goods were a hit and the following year Pekarik was set to open her first storefront in Elmhurst.
She changed the name – to remove the emphasis on cupcakes – and expanded the menu to include breakfast and lunch items. Courageous Bakery & Café offers breakfast burritos, omelets and avocado toast, along with scones, coffee and homemade bread and croissants, on its breakfast menu.
Patrons can also choose from a variety of lunch items – Gouda turkey, tuna melt and Reuben sandwiches, to name a few – she said. And the new location will have the same menu as the Elmhurst store.
Pekarik said when she began looking for a second location, she was scouting around in Wheaton, Lombard and elsewhere, when she came across the former Red Hen location at 736 Lake St.
“I love that it’s on the train line and that Oak Park is very diverse,” she said, adding that she looks forward to having a shop closer to Chicago.
“The space itself is great,” she added. “There are these beautiful windows and a lot of natural light to keep it bright.”
Pekarik said the proceeds donated go to a variety of charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Ride Janie Ride Foundation, the Illinois Food Bank and others.
She said the name, Courageous Bakery & Café, came about while she and her mother and sister were sitting in the hospital during Chandler’s cancer treatment.
“At first we though Cupcakes for Hope,” Pekarik said. “But then I thought, ‘No, when you’re battling cancer or anything in life, you can’t just sit there and hope — you have to do.’
“It’s a battle. I saw my sister going through it, and if at any point you give up and don’t have that courage, your outcome won’t be as great.”
The announcement that Courageous Bakery & Café is opening in the shuttered Red Hen location may come as a surprise to some Oak Parkers, who have seen the sign on the window of Erik’s Deli, 107 N. Oak Park Ave., stating that the beloved restaurant is moving to the Red Hen storefront.
The sign went up in recent weeks, announcing that the Erik’s location would be moving and Altiro Latin Fusion would be opening up in its place.
David King, president of David King & Associates, who represented the ownership in the lease transaction with Courageous Bakery & Café, acknowledged last month that Erik’s was scouting the location, but a lease deal was never reached.
Erik’s Deli owner Ajay Bhatia could not immediately be reached for comment.