The 411: Getting Our Bake On with “The Cupcake Guys”

Football season is here and there are a few foods that feel like they were invented specifically for tailgating: hoagies, wings, brats, and … cupcakes. Cupcakes truly are one of the most portable—and delicious—foods around, and when I think of cupcakes, I now instantly think of The Cupcake Guys, a.k.a. former Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin and linebacker Brian Orakpo, and their longtime friend Bryan Hynson. The treat trio is the baking brains behind the Austin/Bee Cave, Texas franchise of Gigi’s Cupcakes.

Make no mistake: These tough guys aren’t just the faces of the brand; they get their hands dirty, too. Brian once compared the training required to open up a cupcake shop to being as challenging as training for the NFL. They refer to themselves as “a three-headed monster each bringing different key skills to the table and leveraging each other well,” which they say has been one of the keys to what has made them successful. They not only bake one delicious cupcake, they also give back to the community by partnering with several Austin-area nonprofits including Foster Village, a local resource center for foster families; The Fair Catch Foundation, which effectuates generational change by assisting families with basic  fundamental skills; and Austin Cops For Charities, which promotes local charitable agencies. 

Michael Strahan: I had a blast hanging with you guys on Strahan, Sara and Keke… even though Michael insulted my frosting skills.
Michael Griffin:
[That was the] first time we met, on the set of Strahan, Sara and Keke. I told you your cupcakes would be half off, because you did a terrible job of decorating. <laughs>

Brian Orakpo: In college, I had a Strahan cut-out on my locker. At the 2009 NFL Draft, we met at a signing event. It’s kinda funny how everything has transpired, and our last meeting was on the show talking about cupcakes. 

M.S.: So when did you all first meet? 
We met in college, at the University of Texas. Michael and I were teammates at UT, and Bryan was a student. We kind of all just gravitated towards each other, and we’ve become lifelong friends.

M.S.: Why cupcakes? 
B.O.: Who doesn’t love cupcakes? We all have a sweet tooth. One random night, we were out after dinner and saw the craze for cupcakes at a local cupcake shop. We just started thinking about business ventures and ideas and we landed on cupcake franchise, Gigi’s. Michael and I were aware of Gigi’s cupcakes from playing with the Titans, in Nashville. 

M.S.: Did any of you think you’d ever own a bakery?  
M.G.: My aunts and grandmother love to bake and make sweets. I always tried to stay out of the kitchen, but look at me now! 

B.O.: I was never a fan of being in the kitchen. Prior to Gigi’s, I would say my [cooking] skillset involved making a bowl of cereal.

Bryan Hynson: I love baking and making treats. Growing up, I remember my grandmother making tea and pound cakes. But now, I actually let Brian and Michael work in the kitchen. I stick to the administrative work.

M.S.: So who does the actual baking?   
M.G.: I’m the head baker! Brian and Bryan suck at baking <laughs> so they leave that task to me. Rak (Brian) is the best decorator, but he makes this really weird faces when he decorates the cupcakes; it’s funny to watch. Bryan is naturally a great salesman, so he spends a lot of time behind the counter in customer-facing situations; plus he is the least intimidating of the three of us.

M.S.: What’s a typical day like for you at the shop? 
B.H.: Michael starts baking around 6 a.m. when he’s at the store. Brian comes in after he drops off his kids, and starts decorating the cupcakes. I come in sparingly on my off days or weekends and complete inventory, and work on scheduling and payroll. 

M.S.: What are some of your best-selling flavors
M.G.: [I would say] Wedding Cakes, Scarlet Red Velvet, Midnight Magic (Chocolate), and Strawberry Shortcake.   

M.S.: And which ones are you most likely to sneak and eat? 
M.G.: Wedding Cake. 

B.O.: Chocolate Salted Caramel.

B.H.: Chocolate-chip Cookie Dough!

M.S.: What’s the best business advice you’ve been given?
B.H.: I think the best advice I’ve been given was, “Always remember your employees are the most important asset, take care of them, and they will take care of your customers and the rest will take care of itself.” That sticks in my mind daily, because we are all competitive and love to win but at the same time we have to balance creating a fun environment for our employees.

M.S.: What do you think has been the key to your success in the cupcake game?
M.G.: Having three owners who are involved in the daily operations of the store. Being hands on helps us inspect what we expect, and set expectations.

M.S.: Football season is here. How do you like to watch the games: at home on the couch or live in a stadium?   
B.O.: At home! Most people don’t know, but my first love is … basketball. I prefer sitting first row at a basketball game. Football, I rarely watch it now; my Sundays are spent with the family at all of their activities, or kicking back at my pool.

M.G.: I’m an anchor for the ESPN Longhorn Network now, so I watch my fair share of college football games live. I caught about three live NFL games last year, but I mostly watch them at home.

B.H.: I catch as many games live as I can. Last year I had the opportunity to watch Brian O. live in London and in Houston. They lost both games but it was still a good time. Sundays are usually spent getting my fantasy football lineup together. Ask Mike G who is the reigning fantasy football champion. <laughs>

M.S.: What’s up next for the store?  
B.H.: We will continue to grow, maybe start shipping cupcakes to markets that do not have a local Gigi’s. We’ve also started our own branded material line called “The Cupcake Guys.” Shirts are currently on sale, and we’re looking forward to launching other products. And maybe we will open a store near you!