Meet Mignon Francois: Founder and CEO of The Cupcake Collection. Mignon was a stay at home mom who started her business with the last $5 she had, turning it into a family legacy with over 5 million cupcakes sold to date. Since planting her bakery’s roots in 2008 in Nashville, TN she has expanded to her hometown of New Orleans. The Cupcake Collection offers award-winning cupcakes baked fresh, from scratch daily.
This is her story,
I believe that everything you had to do is taking you from where you are to where you want to be.
What inspired you to start the Cupcake Collection? What inspires you today?
Since 2008, I have enjoyed cupcakes together with my family. After years of drowning in debt, I decided to do something different. Using the last $5 I had for dinner one week, I bought ingredients for what would eventually become a family legacy with over five million cupcakes sold.
I heard a financial guru on the radio telling people they could get out of debt by having a bake sale or a garage sale. So, I decided to have a bake sale every single day. What started as a mom and pop shop by a family that just wanted to make ends meet has quickly become a destination in Nashville and New Orleans.
Today I am inspired by legacy building. After finding success in Nashville I wanted to go back and celebrate the city that raised me. One of the main reasons I opened my New Orleans store because I wanted to gift my sisters with an opportunity to fish for a lifetime. I didn’t want to just be successful on my own, I wanted my family to win as well. That store is operated by them and it is our first iteration of a franchise model to give other people the same opportunity as we plan to grow and expand.
I had no money, no experience or no knowledge of the business and turned that into a $10 million dollar company.
Did you have any formal baking training prior to starting your business? Did you have a business background?
People are often surprised to find out that prior to opening The Cupcake Collection I didn’t know how to bake, not even out of a box. Now we are ranked in the top 10 cupcake shops in the country, our brand has garnered national attention from Business Insider, Food Network, Cooking Channel and more. We have also collaborated with some of your favorite brands like Google, Facebook and Pinterest, just to name a few– all of this from a woman who couldn’t bake, not even out of a box!
They are even more surprises at the fact that I had no money, no experience or no knowledge of the business and turned that into a $10 million dollar company. I didn’t have anything before so what did I have to lose by taking a risk to start? I promised God that if He made me successful, I would tell anybody about what they could do if they believe.
People tend to think you have to have it all together before you start. I opened this business with a dorm sized refrigerator and a Kitchen Aid mixer because that’s what would pass code with the health inspector. Now the only thing we can do with a Kitchen Aid mixer is make a mousse. I can sit inside of a mixer at The Cupcake Collection.
What were some of the challenges you’ve faced as a black female business owner?
I stand as a representation as my ancestors’ wildest dreams. My grandmother was one of the most amazing bakers however her life was spent taking care of other people’s families. I do this to pay homage to her legacy. People will know her because they know me.
When it comes to entrepreneurship for us historically there is not is not a long lineage of “my great-great grandfather did it this way.” My generation is the first generation of African Americans who have full access to opportunity. My children’s generation is the first to have access to wealth transference outside of life insurance policies. For the first time they will have access to inheriting land, property and businesses.
That’s why legacy building is so important to me. As a grandmother it is important for my name to mean something for my grandchildren. I want them to be able to say my grandmother was Mignon Francois and this is what she did to bring others joy and make the world a better place.
Have you made any mistakes along the way that other female entrepreneurs can learn from?
I am everything you aren’t supposed to be in order to be successful. I was a teenage mother, the first time I went to college I dropped out, I got married at a young age and had 6 children by the time I was 27. I don’t look at past experiences as mistakes, they were just necessary.
I believe that everything you had to do is taking you from where you are to where you want to be. For example, I went to Xavier University on a full ride scholarship to be a doctor. I ended up flunking out of the program because I couldn’t apply the science to the human body. 17 years later when I was standing in my kitchen learning how to bake it hit me. This is chemistry 101! This is balancing equations! This is why I need baking powder instead of baking soda! It’s all about adjusting your perspective.
As women, one of the greatest mistakes we make is not giving ourselves enough credit for what we know. We tend to discount ourselves. We have so many life experiences we have that add to the gumbo of what we have our hands involved in. Before starting my business, I was a stay at home mom, or a household manager as I like to call it. When it was time for me to go back to work I thought “What experience do I have?” I was an organizer, I was a leader, I was developing talent, I managed money and inventory, and so many other things daily. I had to take into consideration that those were real life skills and experiences just like a job. Men are very good at tooting their own horns and beating their chests to say, “This is what I have done,” or “This is what I can do,” and as women we have to do the same for all the experiences that make the totality of who we are.
Tell us about your creative process – how did you go about selecting the flavors that you were going to sell & how do you keep innovating your brand?
I believe that whenever we use our hands to do work we are in co-creation with God. So when I create in the kitchen it comes from a place filled with joy. Good cake is connected to great memories and when you experience our cupcakes, I want it to take you back to a nostalgic time or place when they experienced something that was made with love.
Flavors like wedding cake, red velvet, king cake and our number one seller, sweet potato, speak back to my family history and Southern heritage. Other flavors were influenced by customers and their suggestions. Our strawberry lemonade cake came about because a loyal customer always used to come in for a lemon cupcake and a strawberry cupcake and he would eat those together so I decided to add it to the menu as an ode to him. Our vegan red velvet was inspired by a customer who commented on our Instagram page jokingly saying if I made a vegan red velvet cupcake, I could take over the world, so I took him up on his offer. The newest addition to our cupcake collection is our pupcakes and that was inspired by my granddog, Sir Barkley.
We bake everything fresh, from scratch daily and all of the recipes are my own. Our ingredient lists at The Cupcake Collection aren’t long or filled with words most people can’t pronounce. I’d never dream of offering my personal guests something less than I’d offer to family and that’s the reason we approach our product the way we do.
If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
I get up at 5:00 AM and start by asking God a question that I expect an answer to by the end of the day. From there I start my devotional and worship time and then transition into my morning workout with my trainer. (Right now they’re virtual due to COVID-19). By 7:30 AM I head to the bakery to check in on the production team and get the day started there. By 9:30 AM production is complete, and we always pray before we open the store. After opening my day is typically filled with meetings and if I can make it home before the sun goes down I hit the trail and walk 3-5 miles before getting ready for bed.
How do you handle work/life balance?
I believe there’s no such thing as work life balance. You just roll with the punches as they come, listen to the people who love you and want your time and give your best in everything that you do. I try to practice something I learned from Lisa Nichols and that is harmony. Meaning that I’m going to be with you when I’m there. I may not be there for everything but when I’m there you’re going to get all of me.
How do you personally define business success?
Following your spirit into collaboration with the Lord on an idea and finding out you created something that made the world a better place.
Where do you unwind after a long week in Nashville? And in NOLA?
In front of the tv with a series that has a lot of seasons. My go to shows are The Profit, Shark Tank, Frankie and Grace and any of the Housewives franchise.
One thing you can’t live without?
Dessert. I look forward to having sweet things in my life. Cake is my favorite followed by donuts and cookies. If I need to decompress, I’m going to go for something sweet. If I’m having a bad day and I need to think through something I’m going for something sweet. I love dessert! Sometimes I eat cake for breakfast and I’ll even eat dessert first at dinnertime.
Craving cupcakes now? Check out The Cupcake Collection’s website and get yours in Nashville and New Orleans!