Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | January 2015

Start to Finish: Gigi Butler

The founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes talks about how she went from housecleaning to owning the nation's largest gourmet cupcake franchise.
Gigi Butler of quick service restaurant concept Gigis Cupcakes started cleaning houses in Nashville.
Gigi Butler Gigi’s Cupcakes

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.

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