Inspired by her childhood memories of the desserts and pastries in Asian countries on her way to visit her family in the Philippines, a USC alumna started her French-Asian-style bakery online. Her bakery business will become a café inside an upcoming Korean barbecue restaurant on Main Street.
The online French-Asian bakery, Cream x Sugar, offers a variety of options from traditional French desserts and French-Asian-inspired cakes to traditional Asian pastries, which are hard to find in Columbia.
The owner of the bakery, Deanne Manuela, defines the French-Asian style as something very simple, clean and light. Instead of icing, her products contain more cream and less sugar.
Manuela graduated from USC with her Bachelor’s degree in exercise science in spring 2020. Making Asian-style sweets as a hobby after graduation turned into a bakery business in September 2020.
“Going to the Philippines and seeing all the things that people make that I just couldn’t find (in South Carolina), it really affected the way I thought about where I live too,” Manuela said. “For me, my connection to (Asian) food was the way I kept my spirits alive.”
Manuela first started making sweets for her friends and family for their special events, but a friend encouraged her to start selling her products to other people. Manuela said she had never imagined herself starting her bakery business at that time.
Manuela even partnered with her sorority sisters in Alpha Sigma Rho, the Asian-interest sorority, to hold a fundraiser called "End Midterms Sweet" in March 2021.
Fourth-year biology student and the president of Alpha Sigma Rho Zeanmarj Ramos said the event gave Manuela a little bit of exposure while she was just starting out her bakery business.
“It was really nice just being able to showcase more of our culture through food,” Ramos said, looking back at the time she held the fundraiser. “We love eating, we love food and so, just being able to show our culture through that, I think it’s a universal language.”
Manuela dove into baking and worked on creating her recipes after graduating from USC.
She usually learns from recipes on YouTube and in books before developing her own recipes to sell with the limited traditional Asian ingredients available in U.S. by adjusting the tastes for the average American population.
Manuela said the hardest part of selling her products to new customers is to describe what Asian flavors, such as ube, a purple yam; yuzu, a kind of citrus fruit; and lychee, a fleshy fruit from China, taste like.
“I love that feeling of showing something new to someone,” Manuela said. “Sometimes it's just very nerve-racking.”
Cream x Sugar is currently taking orders on Instagram through direct messages. However, Manuela also makes some of the desserts for a Korean restaurant in the Vista, 929 Kitchen & Bar. 929 Kitchen & Bar is under the same management as MOA, the upcoming Korean barbecue restaurant on Main Street.
The positive comments she got from 929 Kitchen & Bar led her to want to open her café inside MOA, which opens in October 2022, according to her boyfriend Matt Shannon. Shannon is also the manager of MOA and a part-owner of Cream x Sugar.
“We basically sell out of her cakes every single week (at 929 Kitchen & Bar). So that’s why our boss wanted to work with us to make this bakery happen,” Shannon said. “With the given feedback, we decided that it was a good time to move forward.”
Manuela hopes to serve her cakes by the slice, which is currently hard for her online bakery to offer due to a lack of labor and time. This will invite customers to try as many flavors of cakes as they can since her online bakery mainly takes whole cake orders, according to Manuela.
With the opening of the café, people in Columbia will experience a new type of Asian food culture.
Though the name of the upcoming French-Asian café hasn’t been decided, it will be a completely different name, according to Manuela.