Courageous new restaurant opening on Lake Street

Cafe and bakery donates 10% of proceeds to charity

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

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.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Patty Carpenter Worden from Lombard  

Posted: July 19th, 2017 8:14 AM

Congratulations Laura! What a great quest you are continuing. I cannot think of a better fit for any historic business district. You have driven traffic to the surrounding area in Elmhurst and have helped so many events and causes with you truck. Look out nay sayers because you are about to encounter a warrior that has a baking sheet shield and rides a big green stead. Oak Park is very lucky to have this hard working entrepreneur and gracious, humble business owner.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: July 10th, 2017 2:56 PM

Happy to see Courageous is coming to Oak Park, but sorry to hear that Erik's future is in doubt. I see that Erik's is still touting the Lake/Oak Park Ave. move on their site.

Tom Gull from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2017 10:53 AM

Welcome to Oak Park. Great concept which I'm sure will be well supported. Oh and never mind Lane Bryant comment. Closed over 5 years ago. Old news. In case those commenters have noticed, retail shopping habits have changed.

Cara Bosse  

Posted: July 1st, 2017 4:14 PM

Seuffert: Jesus couldn't have said it better -- not that Jesus would EVER have said something so nasty and unfeeling.

Jennifer Ann Stix  

Posted: July 1st, 2017 1:15 PM

This is terrific news! Can't wait!

Margaret Foley-Easter  

Posted: July 1st, 2017 7:28 AM

Congratulations!! You have a winning business with great food and wonderful service. Oak Park is lucky to have you! Thanks for supporting RJR! ?

Virginia Fazio Seuffert  

Posted: July 1st, 2017 6:57 AM

Good luck surviving and contributing to charity while paying people top dollar to pour coffee and paying Oak Park taxes.

Cara Bosse  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 7:13 PM

Welcome, Laura! I went to college in Elmhurst and love the town and the people. I took a look at your menu and want to assure you that the gloom folks posting about small businesses are a minority in OP. Your mission, your refreshing menu and your positive outlook are just what Oak Park needs, and my family and I will be there the day you open to support you. Thanks for choosing Oak Park!!!!!

Johanna Brocker from River Forest Il  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 6:41 PM

We welcome new businesses. However ,Oak Park is not hospitable to small business. Witness the Irish pub virtually closed by the street and sidewalk repair in front of the metra/cta station. The repair took forever..killed the parking. Killed the walk by traffic. Killed the business. In previois years Oak Park dithered about allowing Lane Bryant into a Lake Street store front..claiming it wasn't a good mix for the street. OAK Park also interfered with rentals for the Marshal Field building. OP interfered with Maggiano building on the Sears sight..claiming the traffic would hurt O.P. but 2 crammed high rises..which eliminated parking...walk by traffic ...and chain restaurants are just dandy. Just ask the small Lake Street merchants how they are doing. NO PLACE TO PARK..just like Chicago. But not like Forest Park or Oakbrook Nice job OP.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 5:32 PM

I truly hope this business can succeed. If you haven't noticed, the businesses downtown continue to turn over. Not many small independents can sustain the tax burden.

Orson Morrison  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 4:53 PM

Excellent! Hopefully they will offer some allergy-friendly baked goods!

Patrick Erwin  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 4:51 PM

We've been frequent visitors to the Elmhurst location, and love their breakfast items. This is SUCH a good match for the site and for the neighborhood. Happy to see them take this space!

Joseph T. Connell  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 4:01 PM

Congrats Courageous! Looking forward to your arrival in OP.

David Gulbransen  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 2:41 PM

That's great! But I thought Erik's was moving into that space??

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: June 30th, 2017 2:26 PM

can't wait!!!

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