Mignon Francois wanted to help her husband lift their family out of debt. The couple and their six children were living in two rooms of a condemned house they were rehabbing in Nashville. The water and electricity were turned off regularly for nonpayment and dinner was often Ramen noodles.
Francois said her husband “looked gray to me and I saw death in his face. I didn’t want to see him die struggling to survive.”
She asked God for help and she had a dream. “God said, ‘Have a bake sale,’” Francois recalled.
The problem was she cooked, but she didn’t bake. Still, she was obedient when it came to God, so she asked her two daughters to bake.
The sale was encouraging, but the girls weren’t interested in continuing. So the faithful Francois was on her own.
She started baking, testing and tweaking a cake recipe her grandmother gave her, working on her dream even when the bank said it was going to auction off the family’s house. It took two years of experimenting, saving and buying equipment, but with unwavering faith and help from her family, Francois turned God’s whisper into a successful business called The Cupcake Collection. Today, the business has changed life for her, her family and many of its customers.
“Every night God would wake me up at 3:17 to go to the bathroom, I realized I was waking up so I could listen to God,” she said.
She watched a lecturer on PBS who inspired her. She read chapter 3, verse 17 of every book of the Bible. One morning she heard God say, “’I’m about to take you someplace and I’m going to do something for you to show you that I love you.’”
Francois said God told her if she followed His instructions she would be very successful. For months she listened and discussed with her husband and children the plans for what was to become a cupcake bakery. She woke up her husband in the early hours after every revelation.
“My husband would be aggravated but then he started getting up, too, and then when he got up I went to sleep,” she said, laughing. “It was like God wanted to speak at me–and then when he didn’t, he wanted to talk to my husband.”
“God had already told me my wife was taking the family to the next level,” said her husband A. E. Francois. “So when she came to me with this idea I said ‘let’s get started’. I knew it was a divine intervention, especially for her to come up with this idea. My wife was one to burn everything that went into the oven.”
While Mignon Francois tested recipes her neighborhood known as Germantown was being revitalized. Whenever she saw a real estate agent or a possible new neighbor, she ran up with cupcakes and said, “I don’t know how to bake; would you try this?”
When people moved in, she delivered a gift of cupcakes and a note that said, “Welcome to the ‘hood. They started coming back to me and placing orders,” said Francois.
Her husband gave up his “man cave” with the door off the street so she could sell cupcakes from there. When a neighbor ordered 600 cupcakes, Francois had to make an agreement to bake the cupcakes in batches, buying ingredients each time the neighbor paid for one batch. They did this over a few days until all of the cupcakes were delivered.
The Cupcake Collection officially opened on Sunday, November 9, 2008.
“A couple of weeks before we opened we were losing our house to foreclosure,” recalled the new baker extraordinaire, who ignored the bank’s threats. “I told my husband if God is who He said He is, then He will do what He said He will do. My husband believed. That following Thursday the bank called and said, ‘We changed our mind. We are not going to take your house.’
“It was a test and we had to go through the test in order to show God we believed, regardless of what life looked like.”
That was not the only test.
One day Francois had a line of customers outside the door when she looked up and saw a worker from the Nashville Electric Service (NES) company about to cut off the house’s electricity.
“I signaled my husband,” Francois said. “He begged the guy, ‘Please don’t cut off our service. My wife is finally making something happen.’”
The guy agreed to give them 30 minutes to come up with $2,000. A frantic Francois called her mother, who didn’t even know about the bakery. Miraculously, her mother was able to get money out of a retirement fund and pay the bill. The next time the NES guys came, said Francois, it was to buy cupcakes and become regular customers ordering from flavors like Sweet Lemonade, Sweet Potato and Key Lime Coconut.
But the crowds didn’t show up immediately.
“I kept getting up, baking and opening the door at 7 a.m.,” said Francois. “I had some days I earned $17. I remember the first time I made $100 in a week, then a $100 day, then $1,000 a day. Now, if I just made just $1,000 in a day I’d cry.
Today, The Cupcake Collection employs 12 people at two locations and also sells sweets from a colorful bus. Their once-condemned house is now a solid, lovely painted bakery. The family’s new home is in the Nashville suburb of Hermitage.
All of the Francois’s six children have worked in the business. The older children have left home, leaving only an 11-year-old son at home now.
Dillon Francois, 20, returns home from Middle Tennessee State University two days a week to help out. As a teen, he stood outside trying to get customers to step inside the bakery. Later, he worked the cash register.
Dillon still finds it unbelievable that his mother is baking. “She taught me anything you want to do you can if you just keep working at it.”
The bakery is known not only for selling sweets but also for doling out sweetness. And Dillon learned early that his mother expected him to show people kindness if he was going to work with her.
“You have to be good-hearted to even touch the cash register,” said Dillon. “She wants people to feel the love when they walk in the bakery.”
And his father adds: “We give hugs—and we speak. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t get any signs of affection.”
Of course, the Francois family gives back part of what it has been given. They have a scholarship fund in their name at Tennessee State University, have helped college bound students raise tuition money and hold regular fundraisers for various causes.
Said A. E. Francois, “When you have lived on Ramen noodles, you can tell when someone is hungry…”.
“I just want people to know there is so much power in believing that if you just start walking with faith, anything is possible,” said Mignon Francois. “When I started walking, I discovered God was a step in front of me, saying, ‘Come on child, I’m waiting on you.’”