Kristoffer Chavarria prepares tres leches cakes in the kitchen at Kristoffer's Cakes, 1735 W. 35th St. in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Continues Through Generations at Kristoffer's Cakes

Published June 11, 2021

McKinley Park baker and young entrepreneur Kristoffer Chavarria is fully stepping into his role as the lead in day-to-day operations at namesake local sweet shop Kristoffer's Cakes. Almost 19 years ago, his parents, Carlos and Cristina Chavarria, named their shop in the Pilsen neighborhood after Kristoffer. Now he's preparing to graduate high school — and is doing most of the baking at Kristoffer's Cakes, located at 1735 W. 35th St. in the McKinley Park neighborhood.

 
Maxwell Street Market - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. first and third Sundays

"My parents always said you should work for yourself and not anyone else,” said Kristoffer, a graduate of Horizon Science Academy - McKinley Park and participant in its Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) program. The lessons learned at Horizon contribute directly to his local small business success, he said.

 
Maxwell Street Market - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. first and third Sundays

“Through my participation in NFTE, I brought in many new ideas,” Kristoffer said. “Getting a taste of being an entrepreneur made me want to continue.”

Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Cristina Chavarria Kristoffer Chavarria Kristoffers Cakes 202105Kristoffer Chavarria and his mother, Cristina, take a break from baking at Kristoffer's Cakes.The spirit of entrepreneurship runs through the Chavarria family, especially on his mother's side, Kristoffer said. Her parents owned grocery stores, and his aunt runs a bakery in Mexico. Kristoffer's siblings run their own local businesses, too, including a vape shop and real estate business.

As previously reported here in the McKinley Park News, the Chavarrias returned to McKinley Park after an out-of-state move following the sale of the original "Kristoffer's" at West 18th Street and South Halsted Avenue in Pilsen. (That shop kept the name, but is run under different ownership and management.)

Although Cristina Chavarria opened Kristoffer's Cakes in 2018 to specialize in her family's tres leches recipes, Kristoffer was baking most of the cakes by the time the COVID-19 pandemic started in the spring of 2020.

The close family made it through the height of the pandemic by eliminating sandwich sales and expanding its cake offerings. Cristina shared her recipes with her son, while Kristoffer developed his own recipes for the popular Oreo cake, a peanut butter and jelly cake and mango strawberry tres leches.

Entrepreneurial Education

The NFTE program Kristoffer encountered at Horizon Science Academy works with 18 schools in Chicago and scores of others nationwide. It partners with schools and organizations to enable entrepreneurship education, as well as offers career development and connections to its alumni network.

"Through the process of creating their own business idea, NFTE students build the skills needed to plan and launch a startup," said Jason Shiliga, Kristoffer's NFTE teacher.

 
Maxwell Street Market - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. first and third Sundays

“Right now I am working on ideas for the future," Kristoffer said. "It’s a project that I expect will materialize next year to help grow the business.”

Hands-On Lessons

Through hands-on experience, the business lessons that Kristoffer has learned includes keeping track of inventory, making customer service a priority, and securing top-quality ingredients. "You want to make sure you get the best chocolate for the Oreo cake," he said.

Kristoffer also learned to prioritize keeping everything clean as he works, he said, "no matter how tired I am."

A typical day for Kristoffer starts around 7 a.m., when he starts baking before school. Then he spends the school day on Zoom or in class. He ends his day around 7 p.m. when the last cake is out of the oven and iced.

Next fall, Kristoffer plans to continue his education at Harold Washington College to pursue a degree in business, all the while continuing to bake and innovate at Kristoffer's Cakes.

Kristoffers Cakes tres leches slice 202105
The Oreo tres leches cake at Kristoffer's Cakes is an original creation of Kristoffer Chavarria based on his family's recipes.

Ed. Note: Kristoffer's Cakes is a Sponsor of the McKinley Park News. For information about our operations and policies, see our About Us page and the Letter from the Editor "Building a Trustworthy News Business."


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