A single mom of seven had a “moment with God” when a neighbor called upon her baking skills to fulfill a massive catering order. The order represented her chance out of poverty, but the struggling mom had nothing but $5 with her.
She used the $5 to purchase baking supplies. Twelve months later, Mignon Francois was running a business, The Cupcake Collection. Today, the company has an annual turnover of millions.
“I opened my business with one KitchenAid mixer and a dorm-size refrigerator,” Francois told Southern Living. “I didn’t have any credit or money. … The very house that my Nashville bakery is located in was up for foreclosure sale on the day that I opened my doors for business.”
Married young after becoming a teen mom, once on the verge of homelessness, and eventually divorced, Francois describes herself as “everything that you’re not supposed to be in order to be a success.”
In 2005, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with her then-husband and kids. But her husband’s new job fell through, and he went to work as a foreman. The income was limited and thus the family was really struggling to make ends meet.
She spent her days in the dark so that her kids—from toddlers to teens—had power when they came home from school. Without utilities, she would buy water to fill the tub so that her children could bathe, and would buy food in bulk, often eating the same staples for a week at a time, Insider reported.
One afternoon in 2007, a neighbor knocked at her door with a request. Francois—who learned to cook from her grandmother—had started baking after hearing on the radio that bake sales could help alleviate debt. The neighbor wanted 600 cupcakes at $1 each.
Since she didn’t have the budget to purchase ingredients for 600 cupcakes, Francois pledged to make the first batch of 60, investing her last $5, the family’s dinner budget, into ingredients.
“When I closed the door, I had a real come-to-Jesus moment with God and said like, ‘Seriously? You offer me this opportunity when I don’t have any money? I literally have $5 to feed us,'” Francois said.
“I turned that $5 into $60 that day, and that $60 into $600 by the end of the week,” Francois told Nashville Lifestyles. “I have been flipping that same $5 into a tune of over 5 million cupcakes sold.”
Since founding The Cupcake Collection at the end of 2008, Francois’s baking has branched out from artisanal cupcakes to birthday and wedding cakes, with the company now reaping nearly $1 million in annual sales. Sweet potato, she says, is the bakery’s most popular flavor.
But the industrious mom’s journey from home baking to cake empire owes to some scrupulous budgeting strategies.
Francois explained how she felt her community had often grown used to rejection from banks.
“Having my money in a bank account at that time, if I had messed up even a dollar, it would have caused me to get a bank overdraft,” she reflected. “That’s just a vicious cycle of snowballing in a negative way.”
Based on personal finance expert Dave Ramsey’s advice, Francois adopted an envelope system, allocating money for her “four walls” (shelter, utilities, transportation, and food) before tackling other expenses, “fun money,” and savings. Sales profits paid for items on her growing kitchen wish list.
Reducing expenses and saving money became a game for Francois and her kids, and before long, Francois was able to address her student loans and medical debt.
She used the “snowball method”—making the minimum payments only, starting with the smallest debts—to emancipate herself. Letters to debt collectors resulted in settlements of up to 80 percent on her medical bills.
Francois’s renewed joy is reflected in her big hair and the bright colors of her wardrobe.
“I try to be a bright existence in the world,” she told Southern Living. “There’s this light on the inside that’s shining out for other people to see.”
Her journey out of poverty has also inspired her to become an advocate. The thriving business owner, now with a second bakery in New Orleans, helps others realize their financial goals as a board member and mentor at Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., the Entrepreneur Center, Pathways Women’s Business Center, and Lipscomb University’s College of Business.
The Cupcake Collection funds a scholarship at Tennessee State University, and also works with a number of community groups helping combat food insecurity.
Francois’s business is both a baking legacy and a testament to the power of hard work. Her mission today, she claimed, is to “be a lighthouse in the community to serve as an example of what good business looks like.”