Mignon Francois lives up to the uniqueness of her name. That was always the goal for the founder and CEO of The Cupcake Collection anyways. Yet, it Francois’s presence that is most powerful. From her afro, which she makes sure is as big as possible, to her infectious laugh and sentences infused with spirituality she is far from ordinary. The change agent, who has been honored for her work, by Black Enterprise Magazine and Tennessee State University, wants to be a beacon for other business owners. Most importantly, Francois, who can relate to being down on her luck, wants her bakery to be a place where everyone feels welcome. She launched her business in 2008 with $5 in her pocket and has now sold over 5-million cupcakes. This phoenix-like transformation is the reason for her transparency. She wants to talk about her struggles rather than camouflage the ups-and-downs. Through her work with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Convention and Visitors Corp, and Pathway Women’s Business Center, the New Orleans native returns the blessings Nashville has bestowed upon her. She, who earned her business degree through the school of hard knocks, wants to help others listen to their hearts and trust the path.
Your business is credited with being one of the first in Germantown. How did you find this space?
My family came here from New Orleans to create a better life. As soon as we arrived, my husband’s job fell through. Shortly after, he started working for a cabinet company in Germantown. After eating at his favorite restaurant, The Mad Platter, he brought me by this house. I was in love.
What was it about the space that charmed you?
I believe that a house picks you. A house also has to move and breathe because human spirit infuses it with life. I believe this house spoke to us and was built over 100-years ago because it knew what it was going to be.
Why were you attracted to the neighborhood of Germantown?
I loved the brick sidewalks, which reminded me of New Orleans, and the fact that people fellowshipped in Germantown. We wanted to give our children the ability to experience inner city life. A neighborhood that is often overshadowed by poverty we saw as a source of opportunity.
How did the idea for the Cupcake Collection arise?
The man who owned this property gave my husband a job for a while flipping houses and doing remodeling. But, when the financial crash came in 2007, that was no longer lucrative. I needed a way to make ends meet. One day I was listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio giving his audience different tips on how they could be debt-free! I wanted what they had. In 2019, I was the keynote speaker at a Dave Ramsey event, which was a full-circle moment because he had turned my life around unknowingly.
What were your next thoughts?
I could have a bake sale every single day. Yet, I didn’t know how to bake. (Laughs) So, I called my grandmother one day and said, “How do I bake a cake?” She taught me how to bake intuitively. I call it “her way.” My grandmother had no further education than the fourth grade so measuring flour by hand was all she knew. However, I knew if I was going to create a recipe for success I had to be consistent in the way that I did it.
So how did you do that?
I had a moment one day where I realized the Chemistry classes I had struggled with at Xavier University now made sense because of baking. I finally understood science and math and now use them every day.
It sounds like you are in tune with yourself. Were you always that way?
Intuition is like a muscle. You exercise and learn to live with what I call my “first mind.” I spent time with my heart because I want to know more about it. In 2020, I have been called to a tithing of my time, which might be reading a self-help book for 30 minutes or talking to someone about their dreams. Two-hours and 40-minutes of my day belongs to that knowing.
Do you think because you are so giving the universe gives back to you?
Yes! If you keep your hand closed, you cannot lose anything but you also can’t receive anything either. The more you give, the more will you get. Anyone can make cupcakes. I use mine to spread joy in a world that is hurting. I want to show others what they can achieve through self-belief.
How did you transition your grandmother’s recipes to your own?
I am unique, which is a superpower and a responsibility. I want to make cupcakes that matter, which is why our lineup will always be a throwback to New Orleans, the South, and my family like our sweet potato cupcake whose tagline is, “It’s so Yam good.” (Laughs) My recipe profiles point back to my grandmother who didn’t drive or ever earn a diploma but, has gotten out of her hometown through me. She expanded as a person because I did. Virginia who has passed into forever sleep, lives at the Cupcake Collection.
How did she feel about your career?
She was so wildly proud of me. Our vision statement, which says that we want to be a lighthouse in the community, has nothing to do with cupcakes. Many people in North Nashville don’t have money, credit lines, or opportunity. They don’t know what to do because they haven’t seen it done before. I want to show others how to start a business with integrity.
Is that why you are so passionate about mentorship?
Yes! I have been surrounded by some powerful women who were noisemakers, rebels, and taught me to be who I am.
Symbolically, what does the Cupcake Collection mean to you?
The Cupcake Collection is a unifier because we don’t care what you do, where you’re from, or what your political or religious preference is. All we want to know is do you want the last strawberry cupcake? I believe people say these are the best cupcakes they’ve ever had because they can taste my intention. This place has taught me there is a reward for hard work.
Any last words of wisdom?
Whatever is happening to you is actually happening for you. Had I not studied premed I wouldn’t be in the position to build a recipe 17-years later. Had I not been a battered wife I wouldn’t know how to fight for my life. I want to let others know they can do anything they want.
What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Getting an opportunity to help others and sprinkle their day with joy.
What is your ultimate goal in life?
I hope to be a mirror for others to reflect their best selves. I love looking at eggs because they are nothing but bottled-up potential. They will rot if they never get broken, which is ironically what we avoid in the world. Yet, in our brokenness, all of our potential is released. But we have to be first broken.