Meet Mignon FrancoisAmplify
This month our team spoke with Mignon Francois of The Cupcake Collection right here in Nashville! Our team loves The Cupcake Collection…especially those sweet potato cupcakes (!!!) and we all thought it just made sense to chat with Mignon for this month’s Amplify. Mignon is truly an inspiration as a business owner, mom, and entrepreneur. She has an incredible story of strength, resilience, redemption and joy and I’m SO excited to share this one with you guys! I hope you come away a little more inspired and hopeful after reading her story – I know I did!
Where are you originally from, and what brought you to Nashville?
I am from New Orleans, I am a New Orleans girl. No matter how far or how long you live away from that city, you never stop being one. I am a proud New Orleans girl. While I do believe that New Orleans raised me, I’m aware that Nashville made me. I came to Nashville as a way to start over in life. We moved to Nashville in 2004 and wanted to give our children opportunity that we didn’t have, but as soon as we got here things kind of fell apart and we found ourselves drowning in debt and brokenness.
As your business has grown and evolved throughout the last 14 years, what moment or highlight are you most proud of?
That’s a really hard question, what am I most proud of. At one point my most proud moment was being chosen by Black Enterprise as Family Business of the Year. It was a dream of mine to be on the cover of Black Enterprise Magazine so that was HUGE for us. It was definitely a pivotal and iconic moment to me. But now I think my most proud moment is opening the New Orleans store and being able to continue the legacy for my family. Teaching them now how to bake so that they could get themselves out of debt. I always use the terminology “teaching them how to fish so that they can eat for the rest of their lives.”
Theriot is my maiden name and also a town along the bayou named after the largest [sugar cane] plantation that was there. Not wanting to be necessarily connected to it is a whole different thing, but now I understand that when you reach success, sometimes if you start from the bottom there’s nothing you have to lose and no place you have to go but up. Watching all of those machines pick cane was humbling and surreal to me, and I knew then more about what it was that I had to do. I’m really proud to say that we have been successful in the sugar business, which is about redeeming time to me that belonged to my ancestors. They would not have had the opportunity to sell their wares but were bakers and the makers of the plantation. To know now that I get to make a living out of this is a proud moment.
You mentioned you were in your “science lab” creating this morning, so what inspires you most to create for your business?
I think that I’m hungry. I’m hungry to leave a mark in the world that says I was here; that it mattered and it made a difference. Not only for me, but for other people that look like me who might not otherwise have had that opportunity. I am meeting so many young black women who say to me, “I’ve never seen another successful baker that looks like me.” And I have to do it for them! A lady walked into our New Orleans store and burst into tears. She had been following [my] story and said the pandemic had her a little bit depressed, she didn’t know what she was going to do, but she had been following my story and said “okay I know what I have to do”. Now she’s running a cheesecake company out of New Orleans! Since there aren’t a lot of black females in this particular industry, being a success is partly for [the women I work with] so they know they can do it too.
In our community success looks like doctor, lawyer, teacher; and I want people to know that it also looks like baker and maker, that it’s an honorable thing to be. I actually love going to elementary schools in my orange chef coat. I ask the children what I do for a living and they say, “you’re a cook!” And I tell them, “actually I’m a scientist” and I introduce to them the concept that cooking is science…food science – and I get to do reactions everyday, chemical reactions in my kitchen. It just opens up their mind and elevates what they think about what it is I do or what it is they see their uncles doing or their aunts as they work the line at a restaurant or something like that.
How do you hope your work evolves and where do you see yourself going next? I know that legacy and legacy building is so important to you.
One of the things that I started realizing from my team-I love being surrounded by young people. There’s a Biblical proverb that says a young child will lead them. So I have learned to listen to young people. I want it to matter when my granddaughters walk in a room and say my grandmother was Mignon Francois. I want that to MEAN something for people! So in doing that I want to make sure that my life is being used in a way that is leaving a mark. The way I think I want to do that more in the future is expansion. So we don’t have a huge set of examples in our community of people who have been able to expand their brand to more than maybe three or five locations at best. And to cross the state line on that is also very rare. Figuring out that process and then teaching that to this team and making sure they have buy in for it is very important to me.
I want to be the largest black founded franchise in the country. I have a goal set for that to happen by 2026. The thing about that is is that its really not a big task, in the sense that like I explained to you there aren’t a lot of us who have figured out success beyond a few stores in the same state, but there are people who are beginning to get momentum now and its really exciting to watch that happen. It feels very sad to know that this is 2022 and that’s still the thing we’re hoping for-to be seen. Knowing that there are no black CEO that sits at the helm of any food business in this country is something I want to change the narrative on and if it needs to be me then that’s what I’m gonna do and that’s what I’m going to be. That’s what I want my stamp in time to have been, as someone who saw that as a challenge that needed to be met and if I can do it with cake then that just makes the journey a little bit sweeter.
Who are some of your favorite creators and business owners to follow?
I’m a fan of a chef out of New Orleans her name is Toya Boudy (@toyaboudy) and she was on one a Food Network challenge show. I think she is a poet and also just an inspiration to people in her community. She also has a podcast is called “The 5 Senses.”
I love to eat have you noticed yet! I would say Charlotte Miller—how could I not say Charlotte Miller?! Charlotte Miller is a classically trained chef and her food is as flavorful as her personality. She’s got a smile as big as your face and laughter that makes you feel hugged when you talk to her. She just opened her restaurant on Jefferson Street called “Yay-Yays” (@yayyaynashville) and that was what they called her grandmother. She makes everything on a biscuit. She makes these hand-rolled biscuits and she does an incredible job. She’s also the lunch lady at one of the charter schools here, so she does their lunch and its delivered to their school everyday and she runs a catering service called Mama Blanche. I am a HUGE fan of Charlotte Miller, and her chicken biscuit you would probably get in a fight with my daughter for if she knew it was in the building and you didn’t share!
There’s another maker I love in North Nashville called InnerG Juice and Yoga (@innerg_juice_yoga). The juice flavors and profiles are SO good [and] rich. She has one with mangoes that is just amazing and she will tell you what part of your body and what kind of energy you get from it. She also has a yoga space as well!
To wrap up, what is your favorite cupcake flavor that you’ve created?
The sweet potato is probably my favorite I’ve created. If you ever meet another sweet potato cupcake, it wants to be that one. We do feel like we are the creators of the sweet potato craze in a cake because there are so many people who had never heard of trying something like that, and I had never tried something like that. I was never a fan of sweet potato pie, so being southern you needed something sweet potato and I feel like sweet potato is the new pumpkin. We’ve had people on the sweet potato challenge for years now, trying to get them to say it’s so “yam” good that they can’t resist it. It’s the one I’m really most proud of.
Coconut cream is my personal favorite because it takes me back to my childhood. Coconut cake was my favorite thing my grandmother made and she is someone I looked up to when it comes down to the way my hospitality is. She was known for her coconut cake and her strawberry cake, so these should pay homage to her! Whenever I eat one, it never fails I will think of her no matter what.