Smart Lifestyle, curated for you by BGE and Empower Maryland

Issue 2: 2023


Shannon Shines

Shannon Clarke has a great story to tell.

From ambitious 20-something just starting out to star of a reality baking competition on cable television, Shannon Clarke, owner of Starry Night Bakery, has a great story to tell. The good folks at BGE were fortunate enough to be a small—yet successful—part of it.

How did this all start?

I opened the bakery 20 years ago. I grew up in the Baltimore area. I went to pastry school in Boulder, Colorado, came back, lived in downtown Frederick, and managed a cute little bakery a block away until it closed. I worked at a couple of other places and never had the creative freedom to really get into what I wanted to do: flavors, designs, that kind of stuff. I wanted to open my own place.

One day, my father said, “Why don’t you do your own thing? Just open something small. Make what you want and try it out.”

Being 25 and never having owned a business before, I think I heard “No” about 12 times before I finally found a small storefront. It was 1,200 square feet. Within two years, I outgrew that space. The shop that was right next to me, they were moving out. I asked the landlord, “Can I have dibs on their spot and expand into that?” He told me, “Absolutely, do whatever you need to do.” So, we expanded.

When was that that moment when you knew this was going to work?

Within the first year. The orders for cakes for birthday parties, baby showers, anniversaries, gender reveals and weddings got to the point where I realized I couldn’t take any more orders. When I ran out of fridge space, I literally, physically couldn’t do any more.

And that’s how we still do it. I mean, I’ve got three bakers, two baker’s assistants, four cake decorators, a front-of-house crew, and everybody here still has the same mentality: “I think we can get a couple more orders in.” And that’s when we stop, when we hit our limit of being able to store these products.

So, it was probably within the first year. It kind of clicked, “OK, I’ve got this. I can do this.”

I have an artist background. Even before I got into pastry, I did graphic design, painting and photography. I have that artist eye also. I can create some really cool stuff, and it was not being taken seriously. So, that’s why I decided on pastry school.

Now people will come in and interview and they’ll say, “You know, I really haven’t worked in a bakery.” But I can look and see. I’m like, “OK, you worked in a pizza place. You worked as a bar back. You’ve picked up life skills. You’ve picked up a lot of really good restaurant experience.” That translates too.

It sounds like you have like-minded people.

Yeah, people who don’t want to come in and just punch a clock. They want to create. And I like being able to give them that freedom. We recently had a promotion for a baker, and I said, “You can really kill this and take over.” And she has. It’s like watching her come out of her shell because she’s trying all these new items and flavors and just having fun in the kitchen. It’s just giving them free rein and letting them go. And that’s when the best stuff comes out.

Tell me your reality television story. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

My long-time employee, Amber, is just my favorite person in the whole wide world. She came in and told me, “Hey, I binge-watched this show this past weekend, and I think we should be on it. It’s a cupcake competition.” And I thought, “I’m already hating it. We don’t make cupcakes.” She says, “Yeah, but we could. And I think it would be fun.”

So, I watched an episode online and told her, “You know they’re going to edit out half the stuff we say, which will not be good for television.” She’s like, “I think we should do it anyway. Let’s just see if they would take us.” So, I literally sent them a two-sentence email saying, “My friend Amber and I are hilarious together. We are cohorts in crime, just a trip to the grocery store is kind of ridiculous with the two of us.”

The showrunners emailed me the next day and asked us to send a quick video. We shot a video in the shop on a Saturday. Amber edited it together that night and sent it over. They called us first thing Monday morning and said, “You’re on.”

I turned to Amber and said, “We need to learn how to make cupcakes.” And she goes, “Well, you just put the batter in a cup, and it’s fine. We’ll figure it out.” And we flew out a month later and filmed those shenanigans.

You told me your business story, your origin story and your cupcake story. Tell me your energy story. How did this start?

My place is a little bit on the older side. It’s been here well longer than 20 years, so the building is starting to have some issues and so was our overhead lighting. Light bulbs started to go out, so I called the electrician in, and he said, “The ballasts are going bad in your lights.” And I said, “OK, how do we replace those?” He said, “You can’t right now because of COVID. Everything’s on back order, and you can’t really replace these things.” So, we have lights going out in the shop every day. We’re down to maybe 25% of our overhead lighting working, and we can’t really work like this.

I talked to my landlord, and he said, “Hey, have you considered contacting BGE about their energy-saving programs?” I went online and sent in a form. I said, “Hey, I’m looking at overhead lighting. I have a bakery.” Somebody called me a couple of days later. We set up a time, and they came out to do an energy analysis. The contractor looked at our overhead lights and said, “Yes, we can help you immensely.”

When he told me how much it would normally be and then how much it was actually going to cost me, I was thinking, “OK, where’s the catch? They’ll come in, and they’ll change all my lights and charge me next to nothing, and my bill’s going to be lower? Yeah, sure.”

But then they set up a time. The crew that came out were amazing. We tried to move as much stuff as we could out of their way, and they put drop cloths over everything. They came in and switched out all our overhead lighting for LEDs.

It’s beautiful. It’s so bright and gorgeous in here now.

As a person who’s creating something, light is kind of important.

Oh, yeah. It’s night and day because when you first turned it on, I was like, “Whoa.” It is super bright.

Details are vital in your business. Can you see more details now?

Oh, absolutely. It was getting bad there toward the end. It’s kind of anxiety-producing when lights stop working.

So, the investment was nothing compared to what I thought it was going to be. Like when he said, “It’s going to cost you this amount.” I was like, “Excuse me? That’s it?” I would have done this five years ago had I known.

Shannon Clarke was able to enhance lighting in her bakery with assistance from BGE’s Small Business Energy Solutions Program, which covers up to 70% of the cost of qualifying upgrades to lighting and refrigeration equipment. Learn more at