I never saw myself baking full-time. It was always in my family—my great-grandmother, my great-aunts, grandmother, my own mother, etc. I was taught at an early age how to bake a cake, and it became a part of our family’s culture. Outside of the home kitchen growing up, I had little exposure to a professional kitchen or food operation business. I was a waitress briefly, and was cleaning houses up until starting Gigi’s Cupcakes in 2008. Since I was seven, I always saw myself as a singer-songwriter—until cupcakes started coming out of the oven. For a while, I would clean houses during the day, then sing in the evening. In retrospect, the time I spent singing at bars and restaurants started my career as a business owner. I spent countless hours negotiating costs and fees with bar owners and hired musicians. There were a lot of bills and countless responsibilities, and it helped prepare me as an entrepreneur.

As soon as I put on that apron again, I realized what I was missing. I rediscovered my love for baking and cooking and knew that this was going to be my life. A few months after I opened, a line started to form on a daily basis. Even still, I never thought that I would need to start scaling up and building the brand. At the time, I didn’t even have a set menu; my staff and I just baked what I could with the ingredients I had that day, and sold as a many as we could.

That’s always been a constant source of motivation for me, the idea that I can make people happy by baking cupcakes, cakes, desserts, and other products. When I have the opportunity to walk into a grand opening for a new store, it revitalizes my drive as an entrepreneur. I see people excited to get a cupcake, or others wanting to talk to me for a minute or two. I’ve always tried to convey the message of hard work paying off. I want my legacy to be one of stepping out on faith, working hard, and not being afraid to fail. Especially in this climate, where things are constantly changing, I know I have to be on point as a business owner to make sure we don’t get left behind.

What was your first job?

Cleaning houses. I started my own cleaning company when I was 15 years old.

What’s your favorite menu item?

Hunka Chunka Banana Love—banana nut cake with dark chocolate chips topped with a banana buttercream frosting dipped in ganache and a banana chip.

What are your interests outside of Gigi’s?

I’m a big ice skater and a fan of anything outdoors.

What’s your most successful strategy as a business owner?

Starting out, I focused on branding to the point of obsession. I wanted us to not only stand out, but also to be remembered. I think we’ve done that, and are still learning how to do so.

What’s the best advice you think other quick-serve executives should hear?

Go with your gut. Don’t be afraid. And if you’re a true entrepreneur, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Business Advice, Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Desserts, Growth, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Gigi's Cupcakes