PRAIRIEVILLE — Clarence Cutno knew his granddaughter Haley Thompson had a special talent for baking when the teenager began taking orders for more than two dozen holiday pies a few years ago.
Thompson, now 18, is opening her own bakery, Bliss Patisserie on Saturday in Prairieville, making her one of the youngest business owners in Ascension Parish.
“She just has a talent given from God,” Cutno said. “She watched me make those pies, but in a year or two, she was doing stuff I couldn’t even think of doing. She’s blessed.”
The bakery, 17188 Airline Highway, will sell cakes and cupcakes, all baked and decorated by Thompson, as well as serve coffee, Italian ice, macaroons, New Orleans Ice Cream Co. ice cream and Thompson’s speciality “cake jars” — mason jars filled with layered cake and filling.
“It was always what I wanted to do,” Thompson said. “God was leading me to bake and open a bakery.”
Thompson, a 2015 East Ascension High School graduate with a 4.3 GPA, taught herself cupcake icing piping techniques by watching YouTube videos starting at age 15.
She would post pictures of her culinary successes on Instagram, and soon, family friends asked to buy cupcakes for parties and events.
“They were getting more creative,” said Thompson’s mother, Nodgela Thompson. “Cuter and cuter.”
Conquering cupcakes led Thompson to try baking and decorating a cake for a LSU nursing school graduate.
The cake, shaped like a nursing scrub uniform and featuring an edible fondant stethoscope, syringe and bandages, launched her professional cake career.
“That’s when it went absolutely crazy,” Thompson said.
Cake orders started flying in and Thompson realized baking was more than just a hobby. It was a career.
But first, Thompson needed to graduate high school.
During her junior year, Thompson honed her skills by participating in a ProStart culinary class at Dutchtown High School.
She and her team won third place at the Louisiana Restaurant Association ProStart Cooking competition in New Orleans with Thompson cooking the team’s appetizer and entree courses.
As a prize, Thompson won a partial scholarship to attend the Louisiana Culinary Institute.
But even with this scholarship and funds from TOPS, the state’s tuition-paying program, Thompson’s family was left with considerable out-of-pocket expenses to pay for her culinary education.
Although a great opportunity, Thompson said the competition made her realize “cooking is not for me.”
Baking, however, allowed Thompson’s creativity to flow, she said.
“You can be creative with the presentation of cooking, but I feel like with baking you can go a whole way further,” Thompson said.
Nodgela Thompson said her daughter approached her one day and said she believed she was being led to open her own bakery and not attend culinary school.
The money the family would have spent on tuition instead funded lessons from a private pastry chef, Nodgela Thompson said.
At first, the family experienced some negative feedback from friends and family members who were appalled such a bright student wasn’t going to college.
Thompson credits her uncle and pastor, Leroy Thompson, for helping her realize she was headed down the right path.
“My family and uncle were the people keeping me grounded in this decision,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s family helped encourage her entrepreneurial spirit, as well.
Her older sister Toni Shea Thompson opened her own business, Shea Couture Bridal in Gonzales, while still in high school.
Their parents own a real estate company and their father, Terrell Thompson, also works in a family-owned ministry.
Nodgela Thompson said she hoped both Thompson and her sister realize how hard small-business owners have to work to achieve success.
“You’ve got to trust God and hit it hard,” Nodgela Thompson said. “Because nothing is going to be given to you. Nobody is standing in line to just give it to you.”
Despite the anxiety that comes with opening a business, Thompson has kept a relaxed attitude, a Type-B trait that comes from her father, a former Army soldier who served in Operation Desert Storm, Nodgela Thompson said.
“I’m stressed that she’s not stressed,” Nodgela Thompson said. “But that just confirms to me that she is in her calling.”