At a young age, Clare McManus has already started to recognize the level of commitment it takes to turn a passion into a business. The 17-year-old junior at Ferndale High School recounts preparing and baking more than 300 cupcakes from scratch in the wee hours of the morning with a friend for a summer garage and bake sale in Pleasant Ridge following a night shift at her job at Dairy Queen.
“We stayed up making signs, baking, frosting. I (was) covered in frosting at that point, but I made $100 in profits that day. My dad said, ‘You have to make sure you get a profit,’ ” McManus says.
That night was a far cry from her start in baking, when she made standard box mix recipes with her parents as a child, but closer to her final goal of owning a brick-and-mortar business called Clare’s Creative Cakes. In the future, she envisions multiple locations, each featuring her signature cupcakes, cakes, cake pops, chocolate-covered strawberries, and more.
Although there are some steps and some years between now and then, McManus has a plan. She’s researching which baking and pastry arts program she will attend after graduating from high school — the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, Colo., and Schoolcraft College in Livonia are two leading options — and setting aside money to open her first shop.
Meanwhile, she’s putting in the elbow grease to get there by baking for garage sales, birthdays, charity events, baby showers, and whatever other opportunities come along. “I don’t have anyone working for me,” she says, “but my mom stays up until 2 a.m. to help decorate.”
One element of the process stands above all others to McManus. “The decorating is my life. I love decorating. When I was little, my friend taught me to put the frosting in a Ziploc bag and cut the tip out. So I’d always pipe with a plastic bag,” she says.
Unafraid to tackle any flavor, style, or decoration, her cupcake repertoire already includes funfetti, carrot cake, red velvet, chocolate, Oreo, sea salt caramel, peppermint, and Oreo peppermint, with flavors like marshmallow in the works.
Her decorations can be anything from Hawaiian-themed cupcakes with edible flowers to a gingerbread forest-themed cake. Always seeking out new inspirations, she now has her eyes set on mastering a wedding-themed covered strawberry, where the chocolate coating resembles a tuxedo.
“I recently got a comment on a post saying: ‘These were the best cupcakes ever, they’re amazing.’ And it just made me smile. I’m glad they enjoyed it, because it’s my work that they’re enjoying.”