By Sarah Cook McBride
Photos by Mary Tweedy
Megan Clark may speak with a Southern accent, but her baking is all French. Since visiting Paris about three years ago, she has spent countless hours perfecting the art of the macaron, a sweet meringue-based confection that calls for egg white, almond meal and not one, but two forms of sugar.
“They’re finicky cookies,” Megan says. “I kind of became obsessed with making the perfect one. I would even dream about it.”
Even before visiting Paris, Megan had an interest in French baking. A dietician by day, she would often use the kitchen as a place to let her creativity unfold. Once she began to really hone the process of macaron making, the idea for developing a more formal side-hustle began to take shape.
“It all happened really fast,” Megan says of the decision to officially open Le Chat Souriant Patisserie, which translates to “The Smiling Cat Patisserie.” “It all came together after a few months. I got to the point where the macarons were where I wanted them to be, so I decided to open (the business).”
All of the Patisserie’s macarons are made in Megan’s home kitchen in Alabaster, which she admits can be challenging at times, but the creative satisfaction it provides greatly outweighs the long nights and busy weekends. The trick to making the perfect macaron, Megan says, is all in the details.
Using almond flour, egg whites, powdered sugar and regular sugar, Megan creates the meringue, a light and airy confection that serves as the base of the macaron. “There’s a lot of technique that goes into it,” she says. “You can turn the meringue too many times, the oven can be just too hot or too cool—everything has to be very specific.”
Aside from the feat of creating the perfect macaron, Megan has also spent many hours perfecting the variety of flavors that make the macarons both festive and colorful. She likes to stick to the seasons when it comes to flavors, offering curated boxes that celebrate specific times of the year and the holidays associated with them.
“We just did a St. Patrick’s Day batch that had pistachio, salted caramel (for gold coins), Irish cream and key lime pie,” Megan says. All year long, however, you can find more traditional flavors like vanilla, chocolate, caramel, raspberry, blueberry and others. She likes to keep as many options available for her customers.
Aside from macarons, you’ll also find a generous selection of other French-inspired items at Le Chat Souriant Patisserie. Madeleines, financiers (a small French almond cake), sable cookies, croissants, caneles (French pastry flavored with rum and vanilla) and brioche are just a few of the selections in her repertoire. Needless to say, Megan stays busy. “A typical day involves a lot of baking, dreaming up new flavors, curating new box theme ideas, corresponding with customers and photographing treats,” she says.
Since Megan doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar home for Le Chat Souriant Patisserie yet, most business comes in through social media or word of mouth. After only being open for a short period of time, the response has already been great, she says. “I’ve learned that starting a business requires a lot of hard work, planning and overcoming obstacles, but it is totally worth it,” she says. “I love getting to share my pastries with the community, and it brings me so much happiness when I hear that people love what I have created.”
Looking to the future, Megan says she still envisions her baking being inspired by the romance (and sweetness) of French culture—trying to capture a little bit of the magic she experienced while roaming Parisian streets years before. French baking, she says, will always be her passion.
“My dream is to have a brick-and-mortar store where I can expand what pastries I have to offer,” she says. “Plus, it’ll be a place here customers can relax, enjoy delicious treats and add a little magical whimsy to their day.”
Megan’s Tips for Turning your Side-Hustle Dream into a Full-Fledged Business
Tip #1: Make an offer.
Offer discounts and giveaways to get your product out there. Being a new business, people may need some incentive to give you a try. I offered a discount for our first macaron box, the Luck Box, and I have plans for more giveaways and discounts on my Instagram.”
Tip #2: Get the word out.
Don’t be afraid to contact customers or to try out-of-the-box avenues for selling your product. I advertised my first box on the Birmingham subReddit asking if people would be interested in purchasing, and the response was overwhelming. It never hurts to ask just to gauge how many people would be interested.
Tip #3: Get social.
Think about putting your business on multiple social media platforms to reach as many potential customers as possible. We have a Facebook page, a Reditt account(u/lechatsouriantmac), an Instagram (@lechatsouriantpatisserie), a Twitter, a YouTube channel (Le Chat Souriant Patisserie) and a TikTok account (@lechatsouriantpatisserie).