In addition to its country and Southern rock music scene that brings in visitors from around the world, Nashville is known for a vibrant culinary scene representing a fusion of Southern staples with outside influences. This is reflected across Nashville, especially at its bakeries. While hopeful country music stars perform for raucous crowds at the honky tonks on Broadway Street, culinary stars are shining throughout the city and its surrounding areas.
One of the biggest baking names to come out of Nashville is Gigi Butler. The founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes built the business into one of the largest cupcake franchises in the United States, but it took a hard lesson and an unconventional path to get there.
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.
She soon pursued a new passion project: baking. After being turned down for a business loan by several banks who believed that a cupcake shop was a laughable vision for a business, 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.
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. Eventually, she decided to sell her company, but the name and legacy remains.
Now, Butler is working with a songwriter to share her story on stage. A Broadway musical is being produced about her life and based on her book, The Secret Ingredient. It’s similar in vision to Waitress, the hit Broadway musical about a waitress and expert pie-maker who has big dreams. Butler hopes to inspire others with her life, promoting fearlessness in starting their own business ventures.
The home of kolaches
A rising name in the Nashville baking scene is Yeast, the city’s home of kolaches. This Czech-style pastry and the bakery behind it can be found in East Nashville, one of the popular neighborhoods away from the downtown area. Sara Way, owner of Yeast, opened the business after moving from Texas, where kolaches are a way of life and a breakfast staple.
A traditional kolache is comprised of a sweet, yeast-based dough with a fruit, poppy seed or cheese filling. Yeast offers a wide variety of flavors, including cherry, blueberry, cream cheese, cinnamon apple and Tex-Czech-style jalapeño sausage and cheddar.
The bakery’s warm, welcoming atmosphere, matching Sara Way’s personality, is the first thing you’ll notice when walking through the doors. Soon after, your eyes will be drawn to the bakery case, full of delicious pastries. This has helped Yeast to become one of the top-reviewed bakeries in the city, showing up on many must-visit lists.
“That’s what’s important to me – the food tastes good, the vibe is good. That’s it,” Way says.
Yeast has a loyal and growing fanbase, which has allowed it to seek expansion. Way has kept a modest approach, not wanting to sacrifice on quality, but is now set to open a second location where production for both bakeries will take place.
Way attributes much of the bakery’s popularity to word-of-mouth, which is emblematic of the South and communal feel of many Southern communities. By fostering these connections and keeping customers coming back with quality products, Yeast is set up for continued success.
“I just had no idea when I first moved here how much word-of-mouth is so much more important to small businesses than advertising,” she says.
Found around town
One of the more ubiquitous baking names in the city is HiFi Cookies. This modern cookie company was born out of a love of music, featuring recognizable names such as the Bowie (funfetti cookie dough with white chocolate chips) and the Dolly (red velvet cookie dough topped with a marshmallow buttercream with a hint of lemon and Fruity Pebbles).
New York native Sean Newsome and his wife Kristin spontaneously decided to move to Nashville and take their love of sweets to the next level by launching HiFi Cookies in 2016. It was successful online, so eventually they opened a brick-and-mortar location in East Nashville.
Since that time, HiFi Cookies can be found throughout the city. The bakery’s wholesale business is booming. You can find these sweet treats on a variety of dessert menus, including restaurants, cafés and even arcade bars.
The convenience factor has helped cookies to increase in popularity. In a busy city such as Nashville, having a cookie bakery that focuses on great flavors and quick orders is a great fit for locals and visitors alike.