Think Cupcakes Are Over? Tell it to Gigi.
Dallas' love affair with cupcakes continues. The force is strong in those miniature desserts, and a new aspirant has thrown its hat into the oven. And after having met the queen bee of the newest addition to the cupcake craze, I'm not so unsure that I didn't just shake hands with the next Rachael Ray.
Photos by Kristy Yang Gina "Gigi" Butler: With God and frosting on her side, anything is possible.
While I was in Inwood Village last week, a distinctive pink and green striped awning stuck out like most bright pink and green awnings would. The sign above read Gigi's Cupcakes. It had never been there before, and I (wrongly) assumed it was just another solo-proprietor's crack at the Dallas cupcake game. "ANOTHER cupcake store in Dallas?" I thought. "Are these people nuts?" Not until I reached home and opened up my laptop for a quick search did I realize how wrong I was about Gigi's.
The website is a marketing tour de force, complete with bright colors, inviting fonts and tantalizing pictures of cupcakes. The most intriguing part of the website, however, was a small photo in the very top center part of the page...Gigi.
Again, my internal dialogue started up, "This woman can't be for real. She looks like a friggin' brand. Where did they find her?" Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if this woman is what the people over at Betty Crocker had in mind when they were thinking of an ideal spokesmodel. To confirm in my own head that this perfectly "messy" coiffed, peachy skinned and '80s modelesque woman was an actual, breathing human being, I clicked on a tab that read, "Gigi's Story."
What I read led me even further into believing that this woman was some sort of mythological domestic goddess, albeit a very ambitious one. At the age of 15, Gigi started her own cleaning company. She then decided to move to Nashville to pursue her dreams of being a singer/songwriter. There, like some plot to a perfect country song, she waited tables and cleaned houses in the daytime, while singing in bars at night. When chances of her making it into the country music big time started looking bleak, she turned to the two things that had always been a constant in her life: baking and God. Gigi accounts much of her success to her faith, and there's much mention of it on her website biography.
Gigi is, in fact, Gina Butler. Although I had to contact some people who got me in touch with some other people in order to get to Ms. Butler, I eventually reached her. Rather, she got a hold of me. As I was sitting in a business meeting a few days ago, an unfamiliar area code appeared on my cell. I answered it quite brusquely and was immediately embarrassed when the voice on the other end responded sweetly, "Hi. This is Gigi. I'm so sorry for not calling you back yesterday."
After all the emails with corporate-types and the left voice mails, Butler was surprisingly accessible. Understand, this is a woman who has opened 28 of her eponymous stores nationwide in less than two years. This is a woman who recently signed with the same New York City public relations firm that launched the careers of Guy Fieri, Rachael Ray and countless other Food Network regulars. This is a woman, who I would soon find out, has an almost cult-like following. I've had a harder time getting Dallas-based chefs and owners on the phone.
Our phone interview was erratic and cut short because of Butler's unenviable busy schedule. While on the phone answering my poorly concealed questions about God and cupcakes (she didn't bite), she also was driving through Arlington, searching for her store's next DFW location. All of the Gigi's in Texas -- Midland, Houston and Dallas -- are franchises. Arlington would be her first corporate-owned store in the state. This does not mean, however, that Butler doesn't take an active interest in the Gigi franchises.
She travels to every store opening across the nation. She personally trains every franchise owner during an intensive two weeks session in Nashville, the base location of operations. After all, she has a lot invested in these cupcakes. They are all recipes passed down to her from her mother, aunts, and grandmothers. She has ties to North Texas (her parents live outside of Denton), so she would be in town for a while if I wanted to come into the Dallas store and meet her. I would.
Before I would go to visit her, however, I wanted to find out more about the Gigi's cupcake brand, and it's incredibly rapid growth. Several things puzzled me. I'd never heard of a Gigi's and neither had most people I asked. Out of all the 28 stores, 23 are independently franchised. Who were these people, and how were they so confident as to invest in such a young brand? I especially wanted to question the person who felt brave enough to bring Gigi's to Dallas, a city always almost on the brink of cupcake exhaustion.
Katie Ruppe, a recent SMU graduate, is responsible for bringing the Gigi's concept to Dallas. A journalism major in college, Ruppe, like most undergraduates about to enter the real world, was questioning the next step in her life. During a family-visit in Midland, she walked into a Gigi's, where, she said, "I just felt happy." She consulted with her parents about the business opportunity and off they trekked to Nashville to proposition Butler into letting them open up their own franchise. Despite having little to no experience, her father now looks over the baking responsibilities while Ruppe and her mother watch over the front of the house.