Cancer Survivor Opens Restaurant That Gives Back

Snug in San Antonio’s ultrahip Pearl Brewery complex, a collection of shops, restaurants, and even a culinary institute housed in the now-defunct brewery buildings — you’ll find a gastropub-style restaurant with a creative bent called Cured.

“It’s the kind of food I enjoy eating,” says chef-owner Steven McHugh (pictured) of such dishes as his “tripped-out poutine,” which made with smoked pork and topped with pickles and gumbo.

“We take things that are familiar and turn them 90 degrees. The menu is at my whim. It’s a very farm-to-table restaurant.”

The farm-raised Wisconsin native cut his chops working for celebrity chef John Besh in New Orleans, opening Besh’s Lüke in San Antonio in late 2010. But a cancer diagnosis (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) earlier that year, followed by two operations and a year of chemotherapy, gave McHugh a new outlook on life. Last fall, he struck out on his own and opened Cured, which donates a dollar from every charcuterie plate sold to a charity on a rotating basis.

The Intuit Small Business Blog caught up with McHugh one recent afternoon during the lull before the dinner rush.

ISBB: How has beating cancer changed your culinary career?

McHugh: I look at it as a huge accomplishment. I don’t know if cancer realized how competitive I am. I grew up with six brothers. It was a catalytic kick in the butt to do something for myself, for my family, and my community. That’s how Cured got started. It’s really helped round out a philosophy, which is to cook locally. I’ve tried to be somebody who’s supportive of farming. I put a microscope on those ingredients and learn what items need to be paired together.

In what ways does Cured’s charcuterie plate donation educate others about cancer?

I got sick in 2010 and discovered the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I got involved with them by going to events. I discovered there were all these people giving to this cause. I attribute people like that to helping save my life. Most of the research goes toward developing drugs that can battle these blood cancers. I started looking at the research and realized if I’d gotten sick when I was 18, and not 35, I probably would not have survived. The drugs and chemotherapy I received had not been discovered yet. My life was saved because someone else cared.

We decided we’re not going to be this restaurant that takes, takes, takes. We need to give back. We rotate the charity each quarter. The first quarter we raised $4,000. Second quarter we’re working with an organization called Team Gleason out of New Orleans that’s helping ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) patients. We chose Team Gleason because at the end of December our GM’s father passed away from ALS. We’re running a restaurant, but at the same time we are a part of this community and giving back.

What’s the most important small-business lesson you’ve learned since going out on your own?

Get out there and do it. My wife and I lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and met a lot of people who quit their jobs and decided to do their own thing, or left the city. It took a storm like that to get them out there. For me, it took a storm of health. I said, “You know what? I always wanted to open my own restaurant.” You sit there and say “If it was mine, I’d do that.” Finally we said, “Let’s stop talking about it.”

I was fortunate to work for John for 10 years, for someone who gave so much of himself.  He’s so talented  — and not just in the kitchen. All the good he did after Katrina, for example. Here’s someone who had two restaurants close down and he’s out cooking for people who have nothing to eat. People believe in him and appreciate what he’s doing.

Your goal is to promote local foods and sustainable farmers. How do you creatively promote and package this trend for customers?

It’s important to put our money where our mouth is. We have a farmers market once a week right in front of us. Anybody can show up on a Saturday and walk the market with me. There are usually four of five of us who go out with a big cart. We load up with produce, dairy, and whole animals.

We put (sourcing) right on our menu and tell people where it’s from. When we ran out of pumpkins (for our pumpkin salad) I had to pull it — and people were upset. It gives us something to look forward to the next year. We have such a wonderful growing season in South Texas. It’s amazing how many people are growing beets here, even in May, when you usually think of it as a winter vegetable.

We’re always looking for heritage animals. We try to help people understand that these are heritage-breed animals that could have possibly been lost through time.

About Kristine Hansen

A Wisconsin-based freelance writer, Kristine Hansen contributes business stories to many food and drink trade journals, as well as CNN.com, and blogs about mindful travel at Psychology Today. She also dishes out advice for writers at The Writer Magazine about running a successful writing business.
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7 comments
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JamesDevin1

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allindiajobnews

Congratulation. My name is Sandeep Sorathia. I also cancer survivor. After recovering form cancer my life has changed. My though became positive and it help me motivate in every tough situation. So never loss hope learn to fight against bad situation and never loos hope in god. 

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Jason
Jason

Congratulations on finding the strength to strike out on your own and do it your way. The fact that you are guided by the desire to give back shows that success is more than just turning a profit, but being profitable in a way that is consistent with your values. Best of luck to you for a long successful future.

Elle
Elle

Terrific idea!  I was hoping to hear that Cured was also using ONLY organic foods!  Not eating organically is one cause of cancer and I am sure that Steven's research probably touched on that possibility.  NOW, if he would just go that one step more and only serve organic food, he would be doing double good with his efforts, as he would be helping people eat even more healthy and potentially prevent other individuals from developing caner . . .keep up the good work!

Carine Vanlerberghe
Carine Vanlerberghe

Very interesting article, this gives me the push to do what I have in mind for so many years now.

Take care,

Carine Vanlerberghe

www.storytellerontheroad.com