Sugar Queen: Mignon Francois of The Cupcake Collection
“God does things that don’t make sense,” Mignon François laughs, shaking her multi-colored baker’s cap. François, a mother of six and owner of Germantown’s successful bakery The Cupcake Collection, is sharing some of the darkest moments in her family’s life, but somehow she still glows with joy. She leans forward in her zebra striped chair and says, “People need to hear what it is that you can do if you are just obedient.”
For most of us, the word “obedient” probably isn’t the first to come to mind when we think of cupcakes. But then again, most of us aren’t Mignon François.
Born in New Orleans, La., François worked her way to Xavier and Houston Baptist University, where she earned degrees in psychology, journalism and photography. After finishing school, François stayed at home to manage the household and her growing family.
When her husband A.E. landed a contractor job in Nashville in 2004, they moved to one “ugly little house” on Sixth Avenue in Germantown. “It literally smelled like death in here,” François says, scrunching up her nose. “There was more rain on the inside then there was on the outside. It was the last blighted house of the neighborhood,” she says and then breaks into a wide grin. “And we loved it.”
The family financed the condemned house and worked to transform it into their home. But lost jobs, failed business attempts and growing debt made it nearly impossible to pay the mortgage, electric and water bills. François was left with a broken family and no way out.
In 2007, she began praying in desperation, asking God for an idea that could save her family. She tuned in to Nashville’s resident financial guru Dave Ramsey, who coaches listeners to live debt free. “He was always telling people ‘Sell everything! Sell your kids! Have a bake sale!’” François exclaims, throwing her hands in the air.
That’s when she thought of cupcakes.
François knew she could run a business and that her oldest daughter loved to bake, so she felt confident their bakery could succeed. But when her oldest daughter left Nashville for college, François was left without a baker and without a clue how to make cake.
“It was at that moment that God honored my relationship with my grandmother,” François says, describing her distressed phone call to New Orleans. “I said, ‘Grandma, I want to make a cake. Nobody will help me and I don’t know what to do.” François listened intently to her grandmother’s instructions. Guessing at her hand-measured ingredients, François crafted her very first — and very delicious — strawberry cake.
“It made me feel so much pride that I did something and did it very well,” François says slowly, her tone thick, velvety smooth, and effortless. “That’s the moment I was born as a baker.”
A year later, François began operating The Cupcake Collection out of her renovated living room. But it wasn’t an overnight success. “I remember seventeen-dollar days,” she groans, explaining that the heartbreaking disappointment led her to a decision. “If I only make seventeen dollars, God knows it, and whatever business I’ve had, he brought it, so I’m deciding to be grateful for whatever it is, and I’m going to just keep being faithful.”
Fast forward to 2012, and she rarely experiences a slow day. The François’ “ugly little house” is now renovated, painted a regal eggplant color, and adorned with
congratulatory banners signifying awards and accolades they’ve earned in four years of business. Inside, the family churns out thousands of cupcakes per day. The Cupcake Collection is Her’s reigning Sugar Rush winner, an honor François celebrated by purchasing her very own crown!
“I like a lot of foolishness,” she says, laughing. “I wouldn’t be Mignon François without a crown!”
She wouldn’t be Mignon François without her faith, either.
“We pray every morning for each customer who will walk through those doors,” she says. “It really has nothing to do with cupcakes. People just come to be filled.”
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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