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Through Strength and Courage in Adversity, a Cupcake Business is Born

Cupcakes for Courage, a local business that will compete on Food Network's Cupcake Wars, hopes to take a large bite out of cancer one cupcake at a time.

For Laura Pekarik, her business, Cupcakes for Courage, is a dream come true.

But it did not start out that way. The seed for the business was planted when her sister, Kathryn, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins T-cell Lymphoma, a nightmarish situation.

"My sister's friend held a fundraiser to help with the costs of her medical care," Laura said. "I've always loved to bake, even as a little girl, so I made over 200 cupcakes to help out with it."

The cupcakes were a huge hit, and from that point, demand for the delicious, homemade cupcakes snowballed. After much planning, testing, and research, Cupcakes for Courage was born.

The socially conscious business donates a percentage of their profits to both cancer research and the Ride Janie Ride Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Chicago area individuals facing financial hardship arising from costly medical care due to cancer.

And her sister's cancer has thankfully been in remission.

You may have seen the bright green truck in the wee early morning hours in downtown Elmhurst. Pekarik rents out kitchen space from Brain Freeze and bakes anywhere from three to five hundred cupcakes daily in a variety of unique and delicious flavors, including Banana Cream Pie, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, and Pink Velvet.

She then packs up the Green Machine and heads downtown to begin her food truck route, ending her day around 7 p.m. each evening.

The business abides by environmentally friendly practices. Their ingredients include unbleached flour, canola oil, and natural vegetable food coloring; and there are no preservatives in their baked goods. Eco-friendly boxes and biodegradable plastics are used for packaging.

They also feature some gluten-free delicacies as well. On Fridays, they feature a gluten-free cupcake, and they carry a gluten-free cake ball every day.

Cupcakes for Courage has been purveying their delicious cupcakes since May 2011. In that short time, they've already achieved a huge honor. On Jan. 8, Pekarik will compete in the popular "Cupcake Wars" on the Food Network Channel against three other top cupcake bakers, where she'll have a chance to win $10,000.

"Many of my clients kept urging me to enter; and then I saw a posting on Twitter about it," Laura shared.

While Pekarik loves what she does, she faces various challenges in operating her business daily. The regulations for Chicago's mobile food dispensers, as they are called, have been generally viewed as restrictive by many.

One challenge Pekarik encounters is finding appropriate parking at her various stops throughout the day. There is no designated parking for food trucks as there is for taxicabs, for example. Also, a food truck cannot park within one hundred feet of a restaurant - quite a difficulty in downtown Chicago. They are also limited in the amount of time they are allowed to park in one space.

Pekarik uses social media to deal with these challenges to her business. She updates her feed on Twitter and Facebook regularly. Her daily planned stops are also posted on the business website. Her regular customers follow her for pertinent updates.

Cupcakes for Courage also has expanded their business by catering parties and special events. They have deftly handled orders from five to five hundred cupcakes.

But to Laura, these challenges are simply tiny bumps in the road because she is passionate about her love for the business, as well as helping a favorite cause. She hopes to make the world a better place, one small cupcake at a time.

Follow Cupcakes for Courage on Twitter, where their handle is @CourageousCakes

Tina Tuszynski December 23, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Jim, believe me, as a health professional I am very cognizant about the types of food I put into my body. Sugar is the source of many health issues and it's wise to minimize consumption as much as possible. However, I believe in conscious eating. I believe much of the problem with our obesity epidemic doesn't just lie in the cookies we put into our mouths, but with all the hidden sugar that is in many processed products. Even something as seemingly healthy as Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal has about 3 to 4 tsps. of sugar in each serving. In my belief, I think it's okay to treat yourself once in a while, especially if you eat healthy 95% of the time. I'd rather treat myself with a small cupcake, and maybe even share it with my husband. And this business uses all fresh, natural ingredients, so it's much healthier than buying some dessert from the grocery store. Also, this is a for-profit business that donates a percentage of their proceeds. Laura has a very entrepreneurial spirit, and she works incredibly hard. As the business does well, so do the donations. Ride Janie Ride is one of the recepients of the donated funds, along with cancer research. Ride Janie Ride actually helps local cancer sufferers who are having financial difficulties because of the high cost of the medical care they require. I believe that is a very worthy cause, especially with the state of our economy and high costs of health care these days.
Jim Court December 23, 2011 at 10:41 PM
Tina, If you believe it to be true, then it must be. You are always credible.
Deke December 24, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Detailed financial statements for the American Cancer Society are available online, and while I have not looked at them in detail, I have to think the organization is run quite efficiently given the public scrutiny it receives. As far as whether a cure for cancer is being repressed in order to increase fundraising, I am not a healthcare professional (although I see at least one poster here is), but as I understand it, the term "cancer" covers over 100 distinct diseases. In addition, each type of cancer is caused by a genetic mutation, and after the mutated cells divide they mutate further, so the disease is really a moving target and will be extremely difficult to absolutely "cure" across the board. I am sure the disappointing progress in the war on cancer is due to the mind-boggling complexity of the disease, not a conspiracy to maximize fund raising. So enjoy life while you can and have a cupcake.
Aileen Tischauser December 27, 2011 at 11:08 PM
Its a cupcake for heaven's sake. A delicious cupcake baked with creativity and LOVE. If you ever purchase a cupcake from this beautiful, caring, and warm woman you would never eat a store bought one again. As you have read, she donates a portion of her profits for people in need and research. She bakes because she loves to, and donates because its the type of person she is. Yes, everyone could benefit from watching the type of calories they put in their bodies, but a little exercise goes a long way too!
Laura Pekarik December 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Hi Jim, I can definitely understand your concern. Much like you, these questions arose inside of me and have also been posed to me by 1-2 customers since we started. I researched the topic and developed an opinion that is very much in line with Tina's response to yours. Tina did a great job at explaining your concern regarding sugar consumption and my stance is the same. If you are going to treat yourself to something sweet, make it good quality food that is the least processed, which is what we strive for and practice. Quality over quantity is phrase that I keep in mind all the time, after all, I live and breathe these cupcakes and the temptation to eat a half dozen a day is apparent! When we were deciding which charities to donate to that was another difficult decision. I reviewed the financial statements that were available online and the information I found did not sway me either way. Ultimately, it came down to the type of cancer that my older sister Kathryn battled and also the people that were behind the organization itself. The LLS office in Chicago has a team of wonderful people, with hearts in all of the right places. Ride Janie Ride came about when Kathryn was nominated as one of their 2011 recipients. We wanted to pay it forward for how much they helped her, not only financially, but emotionally. They are 100% volunteer (so you know exactly where your donations are going) and the funds directly affect cancer patients in our local community.

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