EO Member: Laura Pekarik
Company: Courageous Bakery
Years in Business: 11
How long have you been a member of EO Chicago and why did you join the organization?
I’ve been a member for four years. A friend who is a YPO member recommended it to me—I think because his ears burned from all our conversations about my struggles with the business. He called his group his “therapy.” And that’s exactly what it feels like to me, but better—submerging yourself into a group of individuals who have the same or similar feelings while running their businesses.
What was your first job?
At 15, I was a cashier at Fullers Carwash. I worked early weekend mornings every Saturday and Sunday.
Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? Where did you start and where do you hope to go in the future?
When I was a child, I built my own doll furniture out of cardboard because the real stuff was too expensive. I was too young to take that to market but my next venture was jewelry designing when I was 19 to 20 years old. I built a website and brand name and had a book of work that I showed and sold to everyone I knew. And then when my sister got sick, we came up with the idea for the cupcakes.
We always loved to bake as children and when we found out she had cancer, I stopped working at my corporate job to spend every day with her. We used baking as an escape to get our minds off of everything going on with her treatments. When she felt well enough, she helped, and when she didn’t, I would bake and she would taste.
I really loved baking, so I started to make a business plan. I designed a menu of all the flavors we created. I never imagined that little seed would grow so large and that 11 years later I’d be sitting here talking about it.
I also recently started my new company Lady Developers, which specializes in remodeling and flipping residential homes.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The people! I love providing my customers with quality food, service, and an enjoyable experience at our restaurants. Our goal is to be memorable to them. I also adore my team. I love training, teaching, and mentoring my managers. In my business, long-term employees are hard to come by and turnover is very common, so I pride myself in having many team members who have stayed for over four years now. Having a close relationship with my team and my team also developing a relationship with our customers really sets us apart and allows us to offer a better product.
What daily challenges do you face at work?
Expanding our team in the warmer months and shrinking it in the winter months. Year after year it’s a challenge getting ready for the busy summer season and then having to make strategic cutbacks in the winter. And since we have such a solid team, I always need to balance what the company needs and our valued employees.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
To stand in the wake of what is. There are highs and lows in any business—sometimes you just have to ride them.
What are your goals for the future of your business?
I am working to be less hands on in the next couple years. In order to grow my family, I have to be able to step away from the business first.
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
I am setting up a photoshoot to get 3D interactive images of our cakes for our website. I believe it’s really going to set us apart from other local bakeries. Everything is online now, and we have to keep up with the trends.
Who or what inspires you?
On a day-to-day basis, my team. Even after 11 years we constantly come up with new ideas on how to make our work more fresh or more efficient. It amazes me how you can look at the same task everyday for ten years and have an idea that’s like, “Why didn’t we think of this before?” A lot of times it comes from a fresh perspective from a new hire or simply posing a question that hasn’t been asked before.
If you could go back in time five years and share advice with your past self, what advice would you share?
Hire and spend good money on an amazing manager. If you think you cannot afford it, ask yourself, can you afford not to?
What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
Definitely the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back at how well we adapted, I do think it changed my business for the better. But that process was grueling and scary. Our sales plummeted 80 percent. I had to let go of employees who fed their families and could not collect unemployment. It was heartbreaking. We had to go to work when everyone was sheltering in. I had my first and hopefully last panic attack of my life. But as they say, and what I learned to be true, is that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
What brought you to Chicago?
I was born and raised in Downers Grove and always lived in the suburbs. I currently reside in Oak Park.
How do you find work-life balance?
I’m not sure I have that right now. But I love my job and am grateful for what I have. I enjoy the time I do spend with my friends and family and feel fortunate that my work feels like a family!
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
Probably a veterinarian—that’s what all the kids say, right?
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I enjoy a post-work beer at a neighborhood restaurant, binge-watch a Netflix show, and attend the occasional concert. Now that it’s springtime, I am looking forward to getting my hands in some earth to garden and going on long bike rides with my son.
What’s one thing still left on your bucket list?
Traveling overseas to basically anywhere! Top of the list is France—great bakeries, I hope!—as well as Australia.
What are you currently reading?
The subtitles on my TV. 😉
What’s your favorite restaurant?
Cruz Blanca—it was my first date with my boyfriend.
What is your favorite part about working in the Chicagoland area?
The public transit is a block from my Oak Park location and home. I love to take the green line to the city on days with nice weather instead of driving.
What is your top Chicago activity?
Concerts and boating on the Lake.
Where’s your favorite place in the world to visit?
I have not been back since I was 21 years old, but Vancouver. You have everything right in one place—mountains, beach, trees, city, and country. I loved it!
Thank you to Laura for sharing her story for our April member spotlight. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global business network of more than 14,000 entrepreneurs in 198 chapters and 61 countries. EO is the catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.
If you’re interested in becoming an EO Chicago member, check our membership requirements and submit an application to join today.