On Magazine Street, tucked in a bustling corner is a facet of one of the nation’s top-ranked bakeries.
It’s The Cupcake Collection, owned by local entrepreneur Mignon Francois, who splits her time between New Orleans and Nashville.
The Magazine Street store is actually the expansion of Francois’ cupcake empire and her return home to give back to the city which gave her the tools she needed to be a success.
“I learned the hustle in New Orleans,” she said. “I remember when we were in high school, people would come with their bags filled with pralines and they would sell that. Their auntie was making them at home. They would come and they would sell it, and it was good!”
Back in Nashville, Francois said she worked at her business every day for two years before she ever opened a storefront. In an interview with New Orleans & Company, she recalled running a generator at night so her home could have electricity, and saving water during the day for her children to have a warm bath.
“I was recently able to thank the man who was able to let us use that generator who didn’t even know it,” she said. “I said have you ever heard my story? He said, ‘Yeah I’ve heard it many times.’ I said ‘Do you know your role in the story?’ He said no. I said ‘It was your generator.’ and he just stood there in pause, like paralyzed for a moment. You never know how you affect people, you never know what people are going through.”
Francois then decided to expand with a store in New Orleans.
“I felt like I was in a position where I could begin to build wealth or I could teach my family how to fish so that they could eat too,” she said. “I didn’t want to be growing wealth and watching them suffer, so I thought I’d create an opportunity. My sister and my good friends now run this store and eventually, they’ll have ownership in the store. As we get the profitability, we’ll share in that because they helped me get to plan it here. That’s my dream for expansion.”
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Francois can trace her family roots back to her great-great-great grandparents.
“In the legacy of what my family is, our maiden name is Theriot, and Theriot Plantation is one of the biggest plantations in Louisiana,” she said. “When I think of bringing the store back to New Orleans it’s such a testament to what our ancestry is and how hard they worked. They didn’t necessarily get anything for it, but we represent what their hard work would pay off to me.”
Francois’ grandmother helped give her the tools to start her business.
“I didn’t get my recipes from my grandmother, I got help from her,” she said. “All of the recipes are mine. I didn’t know how to bake at all. This was my Xavier University background in science and the help of my grandmother who said, ‘Here are some ingredients, put them together.’ My grandmother doesn’t have a recipe, but I knew if I was going to sell it in the store it had to be consistent. People will want the same experience that they had yesterday and so my grandmother gave me the ammunition. The confidence I have was the love of my family.”
Now her sister helps run the store in New Orleans. During the interview, Francois’ nieces stopped by, excitedly hugging their aunt and sharing stories.
“Do you see the enthusiasm they have when they come in the store? They’re taking pictures right now like this is a celebrity thing, even to my family,” she said. “Because it belongs to their legacy, this is who we are.”
Her advice for other entrepreneurs?
“If it was easy, everybody would be doing it,” she said. “I would say that trouble only lasts for a little while, that weeping endures only for a night but joy is coming in the morning. I would tell them that even if it is successful, just because you got a little bit of wind, it’s still going to be hard. I would tell them that you’re going to always have struggles, just your struggles get bigger with the more success that you get. Being consistent will pay off later and that’s how you win in the long run, not in the short. I would hope to encourage them to speak what they seek until they see what they’ve said. That if the power of life and death lies in our tongue, then we need to use that power make things happen.”
Francois’ Nashville location has racked up numerous accolades, the most recent being named one of the top five best bakeries in the city.
“Everything that The Cupcake Collection is doing matters to me,” she said. “We just got inducted into the Hall of Fame for TripAdvisor, we were voted as the best place to eat in Nashville last week, and it’s so cool because five consecutive years of five-star ratings; that matters to me. But what also matters to me is that we are infusing the fabric of the community with something. Not just sugar; we are sugar in Louisiana, we are sweet, but not just the sugar.”
Francois said she sees a CEO who is more business-minded for her company in the future.
“I got my business degree from the School of Hard Knocks. That’s what I want people to know, you don’t have to go to school for this you just have to do it right. You have to show up every day. You can learn you can find everything that you need oh, you can get this. You don’t have to have a degree in order to be successful.”
In each photo Francois has taken for her site, she emits joy. From the outside looking in, you’d never guess her rich, decadent cupcakes were born from struggle and hustle.
“How do I send birthday cakes and cupcakes the classrooms where little kids parents can’t afford cakes or cupcakes?” she asked. “Because that was my kid. Somebody’s mom can’t even go to the store and just buy the cake mix to do it because she has to work three jobs. So, it’s not that you wouldn’t spend the $0.97 or dollar or whatever it costs to do it, but she’s not home to be able to do it. I think I would spend my time celebrating people in a way that brings some joy and shows the world that with something as simple as cake. Cake and icing are never going out of style.”