Nashville cupcake bakery Gigi's enjoys sweet growth five years and counting

Nashville cupcake bakery Gigi's enjoys sweet growth five years and counting

From: THE TENNESSEAN, February 20, 2012. Article by Josh Brown.

More than a decade ago, Gina Butler moved to Nashville with plans to make a name for herself in the music business. But these days, something else comes to mind when most people hear her nickname: “Cupcakes.”Butler opened her specialty bakery, Gigi’s Cupcakes Inc., a small shop with display cases filled with colorful mounds of cake and buttercream, in 2008 at the intersection of Broadway and 19th Avenue.The singer-turned-professional baker took thesuccess of that first shop to create a franchise operation that in five years has grown to 84 locations across the country. Last year, the company reported its shops sold more than $33 million worth of baked treats.

For Butler, 43, the bakery business is almost like a third career. She spent years singing in honky-tonks and bars at night while cleaning houses during the day.

By the time she reached her early 30s, Butler decided to give up on her music career and focus on the cleaning business.But baking was in her blood. Her mother bakes, and her great-aunts ran a bakery in her birth state of Oklahoma.“Growing up, it was just osmosis,” she said.But the thought of starting a bakery never occurred to her, until her older brother called one day. He had stood in line to try a cupcake from a popular bakery in New York.“He said my cupcakes were better,” she said.

The experience of managing a band and a cleaning business proved to be good training for the rigors of managing a bakery, Butler said.“It’s not just baking and fun,” she said. “It is a die-hard business.”That lesson was brought home from day one, she said. After spending most of her savings to launch the shop, Butler opened the doors with just $33 left in her bank account.

Fortunately, her cupcakes — with their signature dollops of icing often taller than the cake itself — were a hit. About a year later, Butler took the money she had saved to kick-start a franchising operation.By 2010, the company had grown to 22 stores, and a year later that number and more than doubled.

Nowadays, the company’s shops go through roughly 80 tons of powdered sugar and 70,000 pounds of butter per month.The growth of the franchise prompted Butler to finally give up her housecleaning business, which she kept going in case her cupcake venture didn’t pan out.“It was really hard to quit because I love it,” she said. “I cried for about a week.”

Butler has turned her focus to growing the company, with a goal to reach 250 locations. She’s hoping to open the 100th shop this year.

Giveaway planned

To thank customers for their loyalty and to celebrate its fifth anniversary, on Thursday the bakery plans to give free cupcakes to the first 500 customers at its Broadway and Cool Springs shops and to give 5,000 cupcakes to community centers and businesses.Butler said she still prefers the hands-on aspects of work and immediately seeing the results of her efforts.“I’m a doer,” she said. “I’ve had to transition from a cupcake baker to a franchiser, and it’s been a very hard transition.”