From Country Music to Cupcake Mastery: Gigi’s Cupcakes

Gigi Butler is the founder of Gigi's Cupcakes.
 
Gigi Butler has taken an untraditional route to excellence in the baking industry, but there is no denying that her success is a testament to her determination and enthusiasm. Today, Gigi’s Cupcakes is the largest cupcake franchise in the United States with over 100 locations, but it took a hard lesson to get to that point.

Like many others, Butler moved to Nashville in 1994 for a career in country music. The singer/songwriter started a cleaning business in order to pay the bills while singing at honky tonks at night in pursuit of her dream. A decade passed before she realized that she may need to take a step back and reevaluate her future.

One day, Butler was cleaning the bathroom of a young country music artist who was singing in her bedroom. The fifteen-year-old was new to town but extremely talented. “When she played ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’, I knew where she was going and I was not. She was going to live out her dream and my dream was dying,” says Butler. That artist was Taylor Swift.

After becoming more focused on her cleaning business, she had a transformative phone call with her brother in which he convinced her to pursue a new passion: baking. Butler’s brother was in line for cupcakes in New York City and remarked at how long the line was for cupcakes that were not as good as the ones she made. That’s when she decided to open her own cupcake shop in Nashville.

She was turned down for a business loan by several banks who believed that a cupcake shop was a laughable vision for a business. So instead, Butler took out $100,000 in cash advances on her personal credit cards in order to fund the shop. When she opened her first location in 2008, she had only $33 to her name.

Those struggles seem like a lifetime ago for Gigi Butler. The business blew up instantly, and within two years of the first opening, Gigi’s Cupcakes had 35 stores. By 2012, that number grew to 60 locations and it hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down.

“People don’t have time to bake, but they still want that taste of home. They want something that’s comforting, something that reminds them of their grandmother’s house,” says Butler. “We’ve filled in that gap of having home-baked, delicious, beautiful baked goods that people can enjoy and bring home to their families.”

Butler takes her responsibilities as the head of a thriving company and a woman in a leadership role seriously. She credits her lifelong work-hard attitude as the reason she doesn’t get overwhelmed with her myriad of tasks. “A guy from a Fortune 500 company said, ‘Do you want to be a baker or a franchise owner?’ I said, ‘Both!’ He said, ‘No, you can’t.’ And then about two years later, he said, ‘Do you want to be a franchise owner or the face of the brand?’ Again, I said, ‘Both!’ Once more, he said, ‘No, you can’t.’”

Proving those doubters wrong and seeing her vision to completion will be a major theme of the story in her new autobiography, due out in the spring of 2018. The book will highlight life lessons Butler has picked up along the way, pairing these life recipes with some of her food recipes. Among those will be traditional recipes she learned from people in her family, such as her mother’s lemon squares.

Image courtesy of Gigi's Cupcakes
 
Butler blended those traditional recipes into her cupcake-making. Gigi’s Cupcakes stands out because that southern flare is infused into each product. Cupcake flavors like Scarlett’s Red Velvet and Midnight Magic Chocolate Chip have their own personalities. The wedding cake flavor, which is white cake topped with vanilla buttercream frosting and sprinkled with white nonpareils, is consistently the most popular flavor at Gigi’s Cupcakes, but during the fall the Pumpkin Spice Latte flavor is a favorite among customers.
 
Butler herself prefers the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cupcake. “It has the best frosting you will ever taste. Period. You will never eat a better frosting.”

Aside from the namesakes, Gigi’s Cupcakes also offers stuffed cookies, cheesecakes, and muffins. All of its products are packaged in a very unique way. Branding was important to Butler, so she decided to use beautiful packages that looked like little gifts, resembling Tiffany’s gift boxes. “I wanted people, subconsciously, to want what was inside. The cupcakes are special little gifts to them,” she says.

Butler has been lauded by business experts for her business acumen and determination, including Daymond John of ABC’s hit show Shark Tank. Going from cleaning toilets to generating over $35 million in annual cupcake sales will certainly cause people to sing your praises, and that’s a tune Gigi Butler has mastered.