The Cupcake Guys: From Football Stars to Cupcake Kings
Former pro ballers Micheal Griffin and Brian Orakpo decided to go into a sweet, sweet business: cupcakes! When asked why the NFL teammates chose cupcakes, they attributed it to their sweet tooth and the fierce market that cakes afforded.
“It’s just something that you’re going to always see at any type of family get together, any type of celebration,” says Griffin. “People just always have some type of sweets or some type of cake at every event.”
Griffin and Orakpo opened a franchise of Gigi’s Cupakes in Austin, Texas along with business partner Bryan Hayson.
How it Started
Griffin and Orakpo met while playing football at the University of Texas in Austin. Hayson wasn’t a football player but befriended Griffin and Orakpo at the university too.
Prior to being cupcake guys, Griffin and Orakpo played for the Tennessee Titans as safety and linebacker respectively. It was in Tennessee that the men ate and fell in love with Gigi’s cupcakes which was based in Nashville and was the largest cupcake franchise brand in the country.
Orakpo said when he moved to Nashville in 2015, one of the first things he was introduced to was a dozen of Gigi’s Cupcakes and he fell in love.
Once the football stars decided to venture into investments as the next step to success, they agreed to buy a franchise of Gigi’s Cupcakes and run it by themselves. Griffin was reported as saying that nobody else, not even family, was going to run the franchise for them because the only people that had their best interest at heart were themselves.
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Griffin quit football in 2016 to be fully involved in the planning process. Even though Orakpo still played for the Titans at the time, he was actively involved every step of the way. Together, the trio chose a location, gained permits, created an operating system, and built their store interior, a move that they now considered too time-consuming.
Brain Orakpo further said that they had always wanted to get into some kind of business when they graduate from college. And while playing football, they always talked about investment opportunities.
A Sweet Adventure
One would think that the former footballers had no intention of baking the cakes themselves and would resort to hired hands but the players showed the world that they could also get down in the kitchen. Micheal and Brian put on their well-fitted aprons. While Micheal baked the cakes, it was Brian’s job to decorate them. They left the part of the job that involved running the business to Bryan Hynson as he was experienced in finances.
When asked about how it was for him, Hynson said that he found it very easy to work with the men because they were very hardworking and weren’t afraid of getting themselves dirty in the process of baking. He made a joke about how Griffin could make about one thousand cupcakes that Orakpo would decorate with no qualms, while also handling maintenance.
The men also had to undergo training about franchises to eliminate as many mistakes as they could when running their cupcake store. They started by learning the ins and outs of marketing, baking, and necessities in building a franchise at a company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To them, it was important that they met and upheld the standards that Gigi’s Cupcakes were known for.
Orakpo was very honest about how tough training was for them.
He said that they had to learn literally everything, from how to bake every frosting and flavor imaginable, to working the counter and dealing with customers, even learning the ins and outs of cash register handling.
When the men started running the store, they discovered that it was way different from what they were used to.
“Your life has always been in this little bubble,” Michael Griffin says about transitioning from football to baking. “It’s just a different atmosphere. Normally, when you’re a football player, you have fans and people who want autographs. Now, you’re greeting customers, you’re doing transactions, really talking to people.”
They found that sharing the responsibility of running the store between three of them, with each having their own part to handle, was an advantage that they were lucky to have. Hynson said that they were a three-headed monster and each head brought different attributes that worked. He also add what made it bearable for them was that there were three of them, and they were all partners willing to put in the work. So even when they had disagreements, they had to brush it away and work together.
The Cupcake Guys
The men’s venture began to be known to the world in 2019 when they released a commercial for Microsoft Surface Pro and it went Viral. People began calling them ‘The Cupcake Guys’ after that so they had the name trademarked.
“Once that commercial hit, we had an overwhelming response,” says Orakpo. “It definitely helped our exposure and we want to continue to build off of that.”
“At first people were like, ‘Is this real? This guy is rushing a passer, sacking the quarterback, and then decorating cupcakes?’” adds Griffin. “The commercial starts off so aggressive and then it eases us into having fun. They actually see our faces. Now many people know us more for cupcakes than for football.”
In February 2020, they presented and judged a show that premiered with Food Network produced by Micheal Strahan and called ‘Cupcake Guys Boot Camp’ where contestants stood a chance to win $10,000 in investment. With the show, viewers able to see the part of the bakery that customers were not privy to.
Micheal Strahan has great respect for the business men. He was reported saying that he had known Orakpo and Griffin for a long time and he loved that in whatever they did, they made sure passion came first. That was what got them into football and baking. He thought that the Cupcake Guys were the perfect team to mentor the contestant bakers and send them on a journey of entrepreneurship that would open a path of success for them. Strahan added that it was a plus that they were very funny men too.
Courtney White, President of Food Network said in an interview that she and the rest of the team were captivated by their commercial where they wore pink aprons and decorated little cupcakes which was unusual for men their size. It was so fascinating that they had been wanting to get an inside look at their business since then. She found the men funny, competitive, very talented and dedicated.
How it’s Going
During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the cupcake guys had to adapt to the new method of selling, which focused on takeouts and deliveries. To keep themselves relevant to their customers, they recorded tutorial videos on how to bake cupcakes and posted them on the internet. In addition, they joined an organization that specializes in assisting foster care families.
The death of George Floyd and the protests that followed affected their business in ways that were unexpected as a Black owned business.
The Cupcake guys do not plan to stop at owning a cupcake franchise though. Brain Orakpo and Bryan Hynson have plans to open an e-sports gaming facility in Austin while Micheal Griffin has a job in broadcasting with the Longhorn Network.
Griffin has no regrets in quitting football for cakes and it looks like the football star turned cupcake guy was never going back to manning the field.
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