Photos courtesy of Claire’s Crunch Cake
At 83 years old, Claire Mack is still as significant of a figure in San Mateo, California as she was in her past life as the city’s first African American female mayor.
Before Claire was working on passing bipartisan policies and legislation for her local community, she was an alteration shop owner, television and radio host, and served on the community affairs and fundraising side of KCSM jazz radio station, an affiliate of PRI and NPR.
But the career that’s the icing on the cake for this hometown queen? Baker.
Claire has been selling cakes and running Claire’s Crunch Cake out of her kitchen since 1988.
Putting San Mateo on the Map
Claire is no stranger to the spotlight yet loves when the lights are shining brighter on San Mateo, her hometown since the day she was born. Claire’s cakes are a crowd-favorite on Yelp and have been featured on the local news as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Throughout Claire’s three terms as mayor, she advocated for fair housing, clean and safe neighborhoods, and funding for youth programs. One of her greatest and favorite accomplishments was giving homeless men and women paid opportunities to clean the streets of San Mateo.
As a local leader turned business owner, Claire reflects on seeing San Mateo change—and not change—over the decades:
“It’s very sad, this is the 67th anniversary of the death of Emmet Hill. I remember when that happened but we’re still fighting the same thing. We’re still fighting legalized lynching in the United States and that’s very very sad. I don’t want to live in any other community. I love my community in San Mateo.”
A Twist on Nostalgia
The original Mocha Crunch Cake was famously sold at Blum’s bakery inside Macy’s in San Francisco’s Union Square before the 1970s. Claire sought to recreate the wildly popular cake after realizing a piece of candy that one of her young daughters ate was similar to what was on top of the iconic Blum’s Mocha Crunch Cake.
Claire began baking her own version of the cake and gave it as gifts to friends, family, and colleagues. Running her own bakery was a natural next step.
Those with memories of eating a slice of the crunchy-meets-fluffy cake at Blum’s (or those who just want a satisfying cake) turn to Claire’s Crunch Cake, where she puts her own twist on the revered and timeless dessert.
Claire’s Crunch Cake
In between each of the three layers of the Mocha Crunch Cake are slabs of mocha frosting, but it’s what’s on the outside that counts most, at least in this case. Honeycomb sugar candy is patted down and over the entire cake’s frosting as if an endless supply of the crunchy sweet exists.
Customers from all over the Bay Area will drive, sometimes hours, to Claire’s home to pick up a crunch cake. Her menu consists of five items but it’s the decadence in simplicity that makes her take on crunch cake unique to her.
Claire’s five cakes:
–Mocha Crunch Cake
–Lemon Crunch Cake
–Coconut Crunch Cake
–Strawberry Crunch Cake
–Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Love Thy Neighbor
The sign in front of Claire’s home reads, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” And when you’re her neighbor, there’s a high chance you’ll be surprised with leftover slices or an entire cake from a wrong order.
Claire receives as much as she gives her neighbors. One day, high school students visited her home and asked if there was anything they could do to volunteer for a few hours. Claire needed a website for her bakery so that’s what the students created.
Claire is acutely aware of her contribution as a baker and small business owner to the bigger scheme of what makes San Mateo an ideal place to live.
“I can’t imagine living in a town where there’s no Italian food, no Szechuan food, no lumpia, no sweet potato pies – that’s what my San Mateo has always been,” says Claire.
Residents can say the same about Claire. Without Claire there’d be no crunch cakes made with the same amount of love and empathy that only she can give to her customers and neighbors.