The Cupcake Collection
NASHVILLE SINCE 2004
Mignon Francois remembers sitting at home in the dark with five dollars in her hand, trying to figure out how to feed her family. Now, in the living room of that same home, she runs The Cupcake Collection, the award-winning bakery that has sold over 10 million dollars in cupcakes.
“I was always a stay at home mom – I like to call it a household manager,” the warm New Orleans native says. She and her family moved from Atlanta to Nashville in 2004 for a job for her husband, an opportunity that disappeared upon the family’s arrival. “The economy was doing its thing and it was really tanking, and my marriage was doing its thing too, and it was tanking,” she says. “I was trying to help my husband make the ends meet, and I was a huge Dave Ramsey listener, and he was always telling people, have a bake sale.”
“I went to my girls, who are awesome bakers but I couldn’t bake, not even out of a box, and I was like, let’s make a bakery,” she says. Her oldest daughter, however, had plans of her own; her youngest wasn’t interested without the oldest. “I had already put a little 3x3 sign outside of our house saying that a bakery was coming soon, and I thought the whole world had seen that, so I was panicking,” she recalls. “I called my grandmother, who had taught me to cook long distance, back in the time when long distance wasn’t free.”
Over the phone, Mignon’s grandmother taught her how to bake a cake. “My grandmother doesn’t have recipes,” she says. “They’re not written. She’s like, ‘Open your hand, see that line, that’s how much of this ingredient. Take your two fingers, put them together, that’s how much salt I want you to get.’”
“My daughter remembers it being hard as a rock,” Mignon recalls. “But the second time around, it was amazing.” She spent months perfecting her own precise recipe that she could replicate again and again for the bakery.
Along the way, the process clicked with something else. “I had gone to school to be a doctor,” Mignon says. “In school I couldn’t apply the science to the body, but it was in this moment 17 years later that I’m sitting here with the ingredients that I could apply organic chemistry, that it all made sense to me. What never made sense before, what I didn’t understand how all these other students were getting it but I couldn’t get it to save my life, I could get it to save my family. And that’s what happened. All of the ingredients I realized are just chemical reactions waiting to happen, so I don’t call myself a baker, I’m a scientist.”
As Mignon continued to perfect her creations, however, times were far from easy. The family home in Germantown – the current location of The Cupcake Collection – was often without water or electricity. “My life was literally depending on this,” she recalls. “I was sitting at that house in the dark and I was tired of being sick and tired. I had decided I was gonna do something different. I was household manager, you’re supposed to manage whatever you get and make good out of it.” She decided to pay all the bills and figure out how to live on what was left. “There wasn’t enough to pay everything, and there wasn’t enough to live either and I had five dollars left in my hands and we hadn’t even eaten,” she says.
Then her neighbor knocked on the door. “She’s like, ‘Why are you in the dark?’ and I said ‘Because I’m meditating,’” Mignon recalls. “She’s like, ‘Those cupcakes you’ve been making, I want you to make them for all of my clients, when you make some I will pay you, whenever you’re ready just start,’ and I said okay and I shut the door. And I’m like, ‘God, why would you give me this opportunity when I don’t have the ability to do it,’ and I heard God say, ‘I feed birds.’”
“I realized that I had something that I could do right now, and I could gamble, I could take what I have and I could go to the store and I could buy ingredients, and please God let her pay me,” she says.
So she did.
“As soon as I gave her product she put money in my hand, so by the end of that night I turned that five into sixty,” she says. “And by the end of the week I turned that 60 into 600. And for the last 10 years, I’ve been flipping that same 600 dollars, no debt from the business, no credit, no knowledge of the business, losing everything I had. My home was up for foreclosure sale on the day that my business opened.” She now owns that home – the Germantown location of the business – and intends to give it to her granddaughters one day.
They’re not the only family she’s building a future for. She and her sisters recently launched a series of pop-up stores in New Orleans, the first of which saw 25,000 people. They’re the pilot location for a quasi-franchise model, where Mignon wants to give motivated people the opportunity to earn sweat equity opening their own Cupcake Collection store.
She’s also providing opportunities for the local community, partnering with places like Tennessee State University’s entrepreneurship program to allow students to see how it’s run and how it works, and give them a chance to share recommendations and possibly run a portion, whether technically or physically, to give them hands-on experience they can use to apply for jobs. “I couldn’t even feed my children, and now I’m feeding strangers, teaching them how to fish,” she says.
And though as with any business, it hits snags – the New Orleans store is opening behind schedule due to challenges like theft by a contractor – Mignon remains positive, humble, and grateful. “We always make the point of not saying any sentence without being able to follow it, ‘and that’s just the way I want it,’” she says. She called her sister to ask about the progress of the store, and when her sister shared the news about the contractor, she shared it just like that. “No losses, only lessons. And that’s just the way I want it.”
Mignon continues to dream, build, and grow, recently launching a co-venture called The I’mpossible Company, which helps people test ideas in the restaurant world and experience the power of having your idea become a success. She wants to write a book, and continues to plan and imagine more for The Cupcake Collection.