New Orleans Native Mignon Francois Discusses the Origin of The Cupcake Collection, and How She Built the Wildly Successful Empire From Scratch

Photo Courtesy of The Cupcake Collection

In 2005, New Orleans-native Mignon Francois was at a crossroads in her life. She had just moved to Nashville, and she and her family were struggling to make ends meet, after jobs they were promised fell through. 

“My husband and I had moved to Nashville for a better life for our children,” Francois explained. “We had sold almost everything to get to Nashville, so we found ourselves unable to pay bills and in debt.”

At the time, the mother of 6 would spend her days in her dark house, so that her children could enjoy the generator-run electricity, when they returned home for the day. As Francois described, her family was “drowning in debt”.

After listening to the Dave Ramsey Show, and learning about personal finance and business building, Francois had an idea to start baking, in order to make a little extra money. She asked her grandmother for a recipe and got to work.

“I had gotten a scholarship and studied at Xavier University with the hopes of becoming a doctor- I love science,” she said. “I realized that baking is all about chemistry in action- it’s science! I started playing with recipes and ingredients; I didn’t know what I was doing until science came into play.”

Francois realized she was using her science skills in a different way than she had originally imagined. 

Photo Courtesy of The Cupcake Collection

“Instead of applying science to save other people’s lives, I was applying science to save my own life,” she said.

In her neighborhood of Germantown, in Nashville, Francois would regularly bring new neighbors a welcome gift of her homemade cupcakes. In 2007, a neighbor asked Francois if she wouldn’t mind making a batch of 600 cupcakes, for which she would be paid $1 each. Down to just $5, Francois instead made 60 cupcakes and used the money she had leftover, after budgeting for family dinner, to make more cupcakes. By the end of the week, she had made $600.

Eventually, she began having bake sales every day, in order to make money for bills and to buy materials to make even more cupcakes. At the time, Francois didn’t have a bank account or credit card, but she was determined to make her home-grown business work.

“Instead of a bank account, I was using an envelope system,” she explained. “You take care of your necessities first like food, shelter, utilities and transportation, and then use the rest of the money for other things you may need.”

In 2008, Francois opened her first location of The Cupcake Collection, in Nashville, in a house that was on the verge of foreclosure. The Cupcake Collection became a Nashville destination, as well as a $10 million business. In 2018, she opened the New Orleans location of The Cupcake Collection at 2917 Magazine St., with her sister, Alaina Theriot, at its helm.

Francois opened the New Orleans location of her store because she wanted to give Theriot an opportunity to build her own dream; she wanted to share her success. 

Photo Courtesy of The Cupcake Collection

Said Francois, “I wanted to teach her everything I know. Teaching people how to do for themselves fosters wealth transference to the next generation.”

Francois’ love for her hometown of New Orleans is obvious, as she describes her reason for wanting to open a location of The Cupcake Collection here. She wanted the store to be a love letter to New Orleans- the city that she said made her who she is. 

“I’ve learned that no matter where else you go, if you’re from New Orleans, you’re always from New Orleans,” she said. “There’s no greater place to be than from New Orleans. I went to John F. Kennedy High School and I went to church in the lower 9th ward. I grew up on Bullard Ave. New Orleans made me who I am.”

Francois described visiting Theriot Plantation, in St. James Parish, where her ancestors worked in the sugar cane fields. She now uses Louisiana sugar in her cupcakes, and the connection isn’t lost on her.

“I realize that my grandchildren will be the first generation of my family to know privilege,” she said. “That’s because of all of the work that we’re doing now.”

In opening The Cupcake Collection in New Orleans, Francois wanted to show appreciation for the city and be a part of New Orleans’ story after Katrina. She sees an undeniable link between Nashville and New Orleans and believes there’s a connection between the two cities known for music and their own type of flavor.

She said, “I am always seeing people I know from Nashville in the New Orleans store and people I know from New Orleans in the Nashville store. Many people split their time between the two cities; there’s a link there.”

The Cupcake Collection’s menu is packed with Southern flavors and inspiration. One of the shop’s most popular cupcakes is sweet potato, which Francois described as a “Cupcake Collection original”. It’s a flavor, she said, that people outside of the South are a little hesitant to try, but New Orleans people love. The shop also offers other cake and cupcake varieties such as red velvet, carrot cake, key lime, strawberry lemonade, and Francois’ personal favorite, coconut crème, which is made with the meat and milk of coconuts.

The Cupcake Collection is a resounding success story at both of its locations. Most recently, both the Nashville and New Orleans location were given the honor of “Best Cupcake in Tennessee, 2021” (red velvet) and “Best Cupcake in Louisiana, 2021” (sweet potato), by Eat This, Not That.

Photo Courtesy of The Cupcake Collection

The goal of Cupcake Collection is to make good-quality affordable cupcakes that anyone can enjoy; the cupcakes range in price from $2.50 to $3.00. Francois doesn’t want someone to have to choose between a small treat and putting money towards a bill, and she believes that life’s little luxuries should be available to everyone.

As far as being an entrepreneur, Francois hopes that she can inspire others with her story.

“I want people to know that entrepreneurship is true freedom- it’s wisdom,” she said. “I would tell anyone who has a dream to listen to that voice deep inside that is telling you what to do- that’s the Holy Spirit.”

Francois said that the best way to start your own business is just to start. You don’t need anything more than a dream and your drive.

She explained, “All I had to start my business was my dinner money, a Kitchen Aid mixer and dorm-size refrigerator- you don’t need a bunch of loans. Everything doesn’t have to be in place for you to start- any step you’re on is a start. Allow yourself to be right where you are; do what you can with what you have.”

Francois explained that as her business grew, she put what she needed into it- piece by piece.

“I would save money until I could afford whatever I needed,” she said. “Sometimes it was a spoon, sometimes it was a refrigerator.”

Francois, who also works as a public speaker, loves inspiring people with her story. In a full-circle moment, she had the opportunity to speak to Dave Ramsey’s team and explain how his advice helped her on her road to success.

“I dug my way out of debt with God’s help and sugar,” Francois said. “I want to inspire people and let them know what they’re capable of.”

The Cupcake Collection is open Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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