Michelle’s Cakes ex­pands, grows in In­dian Head

Art cakes are the spe­cialty; sup­plies, par­ties newly added

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Michelle Koos was headed to art school when she met her hus­band, Brian, a U.S. Air Force ser vice­man train­ing with the mil­i­tary branch’s ex­plo­sive ord­nance dis­posal unit at In­dian Head. She took off with him to Cal­i­for­nia, in­stead.

The cou­ple ended up liv­ing in Panama, Ger­many, Ar­kan­sas and New Mex­ico over 21 years. All the while Michelle ap­plied her artis­tic in­ter­ests to cake dec­o­rat­ing, cul­mi­nat­ing in a class — the only one she ever took — taught by noted cake dec­o­ra­tor Ear­lene Moore.

“We were sta­tioned in New Mex­ico and it was a hor­ri­ble place to be,” the Charles County na­tive said. “[Moore] was in [nearby] Lub­bock, Texas. As soon as we got fin­ished with her class, we got an of­fer to come back here.”

She and her hus­band re­turned to Mary­land and she be­gan mak­ing and dec­o­rat­ing cakes as a side­light to her mother Patty John­son’s florist busi­ness in In­dian Head.

“My mom was run­ning The Flower Bas­ket at the time. I used to drop cakes off — do­ing cakes on the side — drop­ping them off for friends, a cou­ple of wed­dings. Then my mom de­cided to re­tire and sell. Then it was do it or die, I guess. So we de­cided to open this,” she said.

With the help of her hus­band and two daugh- ters, Koos Ni­cole opened and Michelle’s Heather, Cakes a door down in the same build­ing as The Flower Bas­ket. That was a lit­tle over five years ago. More re­cently the dance stu­dio once sand­wiched be­tween the two busi­nesses closed and Koos took over that space to ex­pand into sell­ing cake-mak­ing and dec­o­rat- ing sup­plies, and to of­fer dec­o­rat­ing classes and par­ties.

“In the back of the room we have two ta­bles to act as a class­room,” Koos said. “We’re go­ing to have in­struc­tion, and we’ll also be do­ing kids’ par­ties, where they’ll have dec­o­rate.a lit­tle The cake first to party will be this Satur­day, ac­tu­ally. By spring­time, we want to start a ‘cakes and cock­tails,’ kind of like ‘wine and de­sign.’ That’ll be for adults, in the evening — a lit­tle in­struc­tion, dec­o­rate your cake and all the fun stuff that you’d like to learn as an adult with your friends.”

But art cakes are the sig­na­ture busi­ness, along- side daugh­terandby has­the four Kristal kitchen­been­the years.the turnover­scup­cakeshelp­ingNi­cole Thomas,Aside­for the makesfro­mout her made­last whoin the turnovers,with the ic­ing Thomasand dec­o­ra­tions. helps sugar“I help and her stuff with like the that — the fon­dant — the dec­o­ra­tive pieces that go on the cakes,” Thomas said. “We spe­cial­ize in the art cakes,” Koos said. “My love of art kind of pushed me into do­ing the things that are re­ally weird, the stuff you have to break out the saws and drills for. We’re very busy with the high-end art cakes. The cake [tele­vi­sion] shows have made it where most peo­ple tr y to go crazy with the cakes for the lit­tle kids — one-year-olds, three-year-olds.”

The busi­ness has ramped up to more than triple its sales com­pared to the be­gin­ning, at­tract­ing cus­tomers from all over the re­gion.

“It used to be that one batch of frost­ing would last us sev­eral days,” Ni­cole said while fill­ing cup­cake bak­ing lin­ers. “Now it’s like eight a week.”

Michelle, Ni­cole and Kristal are each typ­i­cally on the road de­liv­er­ing cakes to dif­fer­ent events on the week­ends. The larger, more elab­o­rate cakes re­quire fin­ish­ing and set­ting up on lo­ca­tion. Those cakes can cost as much $2,000.

Koos said they do all the dec­o­rat­ing the night be­fore an event or that morn­ing to en­sure fresh­ness and per­fec­tion.

“A lot of peo­ple have had bad fon­dant cakes, and they say it’s hard or dr y,” she said. “That means some­body’s do­ing their cakes too early. We like to make them as fresh as pos­si­ble.”

This year has been es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing on the art cake front. She was prep­ping to do a Dis­ney Cas­tle cake for a wed­ding this week and has been do­ing un­usual and elab­o­rate cakes all year.

“This is the first year, we joked, that we had done Mar­vel [Comics], Star Trek and Star Wars — it was the year of weird wed­dings,” she said. “We did a Mil­len­nium Fal­con. We did a tiered cake that was all Star Trek with the ships. We had the Mar­vel one with all the su­per­heroes. It’s been an in­ter­est­ing year for wed­ding cakes.”

The three-woman team — her younger daugh­ter, Heather, re­cently moved to San Diego — search out cake recipes and come up with their own, es­pe­cially for the cup­cakes. They also pro­duce “dummy” cakes for pho­tog­ra­phy shoots, usu­ally com­mis­sioned by a pho­tog­ra­pher, that end up dis­played in mag­a­zines.

The list of of­fer­ings has steadily grown to in­clude home­made jel­lies, gin­ger­bread, lit­tle pies, cook­ies, farm fresh eggs — they get them de­liv­ered from a farm in Br yans Road and sell what they don’t use — and a fruit­cake from a lo­cal recipe.

“The fruit­cake is a leg­end,” Koos said. “[The recipe] comes from Ruthie Grinder, who owns Grinder’s over in Mar­bury. Ruthie’s had this fruit­cake recipe for­ever. It’s what we call ‘white fruit­cake.’ She would never give any­body the recipe. I fi­nally con­vinced her to give me that fruit­cake recipe.”

Un­like the hard, un­nat­u­rally col­ored cakes found in a tin, she said, “th­ese are moist and de­li­cious.”

“She’s got a lot of fol­low­ers for her fruit­cake,” Ni­cole added.

“When we first started, we weren’t go­ing to open to the public. We were go­ing to go by ap­point­ment only,” Koos said. “Then my daugh­ter got laid off up town, and we de­cided to have the cup­cakes up front and a cou­ple of pas­tries — brown­ies, turnovers, things like that.

“The front took off all on its own,” she added.

Koos said she’s look­ing for­ward to the new ven­ture of sell­ing sup­plies and host­ing classes and par­ties, and keep­ing the art cakes rolling out the door.

“I love do­ing it. I don’t see any­body that’s a cake dec­o­ra­tor like I am ever re­tir­ing,” she said. “The peo­ple I know, I think did it un­til the day they died, or un­til they could no longer do it.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Michelle Koos and her daugh­ter Ni­cole Koos pose for a pic­ture through one of the cup­cake dis­play cases at Michelle’s Cakes in In­dian Head.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

One of the elab­o­rate art cakes made by Michelle’s Cakes in In­dian Head.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

A birth­day art cake made by Michelle’s Cakes in In­dian Head.

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