As you enter the Gigi’s Cupcakes shop in Bee Cave, Texas (nestled just west of Austin’s city limits), you may run into two brawny bakers as they emerge from the kitchen covered in flour and icing. These aren’t your ordinary kitchen staff – they’re the owners of the shop and former professional football players.
Brian Orakpo and Michael Griffin made a name for themselves on the gridiron, becoming stars at the University of Texas and then for NFL franchises the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans. As their careers wound down, they wanted a new challenge.
While both were playing football in Tennessee, they became familiar with Gigi’s Cupcakes, a franchise originally founded in Nashville. Baking became an intriguing option for them as they looked for a business venture to begin the transition into post-football life. The two teamed up with Bryan Hynson, their good friend from the University of Texas who worked in banking, to begin the franchisee process.
“We always wanted to get into some kind of business when we came up from college and in our professions, we always talked about an investment together,” says Brian Orakpo. “It’s the perfect opportunity, especially after playing in the National Football League [when both were with the Titans]. Gigi’s originated in Tennessee, so we made the call. It’s something we can learn along the process, but at the same time we know about this brand and what it can bring to the Austin market.”
They began the training process by going to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, working with the marketing team, bakers, and others in the company to learn how to build their franchise from the ground up and adhere to the standards Gigi’s has developed since its inception over a decade ago.
Much like football players prepare for an upcoming season with two-a-days, Griffin, Orakpo, and Hynson had to train all day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for three consecutive weeks to hone their skills. They learned how to prep, bake, decorate, and have their business affairs in order so that the store would be ready for opening at 9 a.m. each morning and would run smoothly throughout the course of the day.
Coming into a completely new industry, they had to adjust to a different way of approaching their craft. “Your life has always been in this little bubble,” Michael Griffin says about the transition from football to baking. “It’s just a different atmosphere. Normally, when you’re a football player, you have fans and people who want autographs. Now, you’re greeting customers, you’re doing transactions, really talking to people.”
While the partners had the typical growing pains associated with opening a franchise store, Gigi’s Cupcakes Bee Cave quickly gained notoriety due to its owners’ built-in fame. Their success swelled when, in 2018, they were featured in a commercial for Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6. The commercial appeared on major networks, giving them a great deal of exposure.
“Once that commercial hit, we had an overwhelming response,” says Orakpo. “It definitely helped our exposure and we want to continue to build off of that.”
“At first people were like, ‘Is this real? This guy is rushing a passer, sacking the quarterback, and then decorating cupcakes?’” adds Griffin. “The commercial starts off so aggressive and then it eases into us having fun. They actually see our faces. Now many people know us more for cupcakes than for football.”
The day-to-day operation has also been eye-opening for them, but they find that three people running the franchise and having their own responsibilities within that has been a huge advantage.
“Having three partners is essential. We always have one deciding vote, so regardless of any disagreements we ever have we always come together at some point,” says Bryan Hynson. “It’s been fun, building together and learning together. We’re learning on the fly and we’re coming up with creative ideas to ensure that this bakery is going to be here for years and years to come.”
Each has his own talents that are put to use in the business. Griffin is the best baker, so he usually comes in at 6 a.m. to handle that responsibility. Orakpo will then take his turn, decorating cupcakes, handling sales calls, and setting up meetings. Hynson is the business manager, making sure everything is balanced. As Hynson points out, they’re a three-headed monster and each man brings different attributes to the table.
Griffin and Orakpo are happy to change the perception of what a baker may look like. They hope that their story motivates others to pursue careers that they may not have considered due to preconceived notions about masculinity or other false standards.
Griffin shares a story about how they hosted a kids’ birthday party at the shop. A boy who had said that he always wanted to open a bakery with his mother was told that was ‘uncool’ by his friends. However, when he brought his friends to the shop, they were able to see that men can bake and confidently wear pink also.
These newcomers to the bakery world look forward to turning more heads as they tackle the opportunities and obstacles that await them.