Baker closes bakery, develops new recipe for success
Posted on June 13, 2022 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 2 Comments
Aaron McInnis is a baker and a busy man. These days, he’s working in television, college instruction, mentoring, running a custom cake business and launching a new book: “Man Versus Cake Presents Happy Belly: The Cake Book.” However, he only has to look back a few years to recall an even busier time for himself and his family.
Born in Nova Scotia, McInnis became a transplant to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2005. He and his wife Melissa were married, and then some. “We got married, we bought a house, we had a baby and bought a business all in six months. It was a terrible timing situation,” he said, laughing about the memory.
“I found myself unemployed at one point,” he explained. “There just happened to be a bakery for sale down the road from where I lived and I looked at my wife and I said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
He had some experience, having used cake decorating and production as a means to help pay for post-secondary. He also felt strongly about the idea.
So it was, with the support of family, the self-trained McInnis opened his first bakery at the age of 23. The brick-and-mortar location, Happy Belly, allowed him to pursue baking full-time.
As plenty of small business owners will know, there’s full-time work… and then there’s owning a small business. He fine-tuned his recipes and people liked the product but staffing to meet demand was a regular challenge, leaving him often doing double duties. There were ups and downs.
“I kept it open for about two, three years. I wasn’t winning but I wasn’t losing. What I was losing or what was missing in my life was that family life or work-life balance,” he told Atlantic Business Magazine. His family had grown now, and he wanted to be there for his sons (there are now three junior McInnis’: Nathan, Kingston and Owen).
He closed the bakery.
But rather than abandoning baking altogether, it was a transition. McInnis re-established Happy Belly Cakery as a custom order studio, based out of his home in Conception Bay South. It was still a trick not to get overwhelmed with orders and eventually, feeling some burnout, he ratcheted down and, while still producing cakes on occasion, he opted to return to the nine to five.
McInnis had studied nutrition and it was the basis of his work before launching the bakery. He returned to the field, taking on work as a certified nutritionist, until another critical time.
“My father passed about seven years ago now, at the age of 53. And just after, 10 weeks after he passed, my father-in-law passed,” he said.
It was difficult period of introspection. McInnis enjoyed his work well enough but wasn’t as happy as he believed he could be in his work life.
“I need to make some changes,” he thought, “and everything just flipped around back to my passion, which was always baking.”
He’d never abandoned the custom orders, making it a fairly easy transition as he started by ramping up there again. The family had the house registered as a bakery and there were more custom orders, farmers markets.
Years earlier, McInnis’ son had convinced him to take on a “100-layer challenge” going around social media. Over the course of a week, he’d livestreamed production of a 100-layer, five-foot-tall cake and gained a following of people from all over the world, some who would try to order from him. It inspired the start of an instructional blog: Man Versus Cake. He built on his social media following.
His passion was re-ignited. There were new professional opportunities. He baked for special events, took on televised competitions, co-produced exclusive baking-centred retreats, mentoring bakers.
In 2019, not tied to a brick-and-mortar business, and again with the support of family, he accepted a position with the College of the North Atlantic as an instructor in Baking and Pastry Arts in Stephenville. The family made a move. McInnis challenged for his red seal and was successful, becoming one of only about a handful of red seal bakers in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. And, despite the work involved, he continued taking on select orders for Happy Belly.
The foreword in his new book was written by Food Network judge Kimberly Bailey, in a nod to his now-veteran status on popular challenge shows on the network. He became runner-up in the first season of The Big Bake, runner-up in the first season of Winner Cake All, winner of the second season of the Christmas Cookie Challenge and finished top five in the fourth season of the Spring Baking Championship. McInnis now has a Bell FibeTV1 program in production called Baking It Up A Notch.
“The book itself is to inspire people to just keep going. It’s literally a collection of all the solid, base recipes that I used to build my business—that I’m known for, that people knew and loved for years. They’re very simple recipes,” he said.
The new book also might not be his last. The title was chosen very carefully, leaving open the possibility for a Happy Belly series, with a chance for further titles on pastry and baking. Going there will be dependent on sales of the first, and not having work overtaking life.
If there is a bottom line to it all, McInnis suggested, it’s that a little self-reflection never goes astray, that it’s important to feed your creative mind and pursue your passions, and there can be very different paths to finding the balance and professional success. A closure isn’t a failure. Above all, he thanked his family.
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