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For Gigi’s founder, seller’s remorse


Gina Butler

Gina Butler’s new book is called “The Secret Ingredient” and features family recipes along with business lessons. “I’m now re-building my brand,” she told Franchise Times during a visit to its booth at the NYC franchise expo.

“It’s been really hard. You birth a baby and you put it into someone’s hands and you trust them,” said Gina Butler, the founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes who sold 100 percent of her cupcake chain to a private equity firm in June 2016.

The flowery words always flow when founders sell their franchise brands to private equity firms. At the time of the sale to FundCorp out of Texas and its affiliate KeyCorp, Butler said in a statement, “I am so excited about FundCorp leading the way for Gigi’s Cupcakes. We now have the opportunity to experience tremendous growth.”

But as shown by the rare honesty of Butler, who was a Franchise Times cover story in January 2015 and stopped to visit with an update at a recent trade show, the good feelings don’t always hold. For her, the hardest part is remaining the face of the brand, appearing on behalf of Gigi’s to tell her unique story, but having no voting interest or control with the franchisor.

“Your name and your face is on it. The hate mail—and the fan mail—still comes to me,” she said, adding she’ll get a note when a store in Milwaukee, say, runs out of cupcakes. “I’m still the face.” In fact, she makes appearances at trade shows and grand openings to promote the cupcake chain, which had about 100 units at the time of the sale and two years later has about the same number.

Dueling lawsuits by KeyCorp against franchisees and franchisees against KeyCorp, detailed in the May issue, are painful to her, yet something she said she predicted.

She told the board “if you make these four changes you will get sued,” and they said “oh no, don’t worry,” yet it came to pass, she said, while adding many of the franchisees involved were a problem before the sale and remain so afterward.

KeyCorp and Gigi’s execs declined an interview request, but Gigi’s Franchising CEO Judy Renfrow sent a statement that said in part: “Not only does her history and passion for the company make her the perfect spokesperson, it also allows her to still be involved as we take Gigi’s Cupcakes to the next level of growth both through expansion of the franchise system as well as new offerings such as the recent introduction of nationwide delivery.”

Now Butler is working on her next chapter, and true to her back story—broke cleaning person and aspiring country singer turned Gigi’s founder with $300—she has big aspirations. “I’m now re-building my brand,” she said, emphasizing the ‘my.’

Her book is out this fall from Simon & Schuster, titled “The Secret Ingredient” and featuring a family recipe at the end of every chapter and a business lesson at the beginning. For example: “Be brave, be bold. It’s the hard knocks experience of business.”

She’s developing a line of cooking utensils under her name, such as tea towels and spoons and a whisk. The tag line is, “Where there’s a whisk there’s a way,” and she even wrote a jingle, which she proceeds to sing aloud. The idea is, if she has to paddle across a river with this whisk she can. “It’s—don’t mess with my whisk,” she says with a laugh, striking a tough pose.

She has a deal for Gigi’s branded cabinets with Serenade Cabinetry out of Pennsylvania, and she will begin touring and doing cooking shows for all the designers. The difference between her and other housewares celebrities, she figures, is authenticity. “I’ve cleaned more cabinets than anybody on the planet,” she said.

She’s recording a TED talk, and she said to do one of those popular 15- to 22-minute talks “you have to be able to support your theory. My theory was, sweet dreams die hard.”

Her ultimate goal is to do a cooking show. “I want to be the next Martha Stewart,” she declares, then pauses. “Without the prison sentence,” and she whisks herself away toward her next appearance.

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