I can’t be the only one who caught Microsoft’s Surface Pro ad over Superbowl season featuring former Tennessee Titans player Michael Griffin and former linebacker Brian Orakpo as cupcake creators and thought “well what a cute marketing ploy”. I also can’t be the only one who didn’t know it was… real?
Though household name players like Tom Brady will bank enough in their career to campout come retirement, the majority of NFL players have to find work once their time on the gridiron has come to close. While according to Forbes and LinkedIn (Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes) 20% of former players do become entrepreneurs (the rest head into sales, coaching and broadcasting), a cupcake franchise is definitely not a common or expected direction.
“This was something simple. We looked into what do people require, need or want no matter what the situation may be and one thing we realized is no matter what everybody had a birthday every year and people always celebrate with cupcakes.” (Kia Morgan-Smith, The Grio) explained Griffin.
Logical. But how? Apparently it all began over lunch in Nashville February 2017, when Orakpo, Griffin and their good friend Bryan Hynson were tossing around possible business ventures when the old memory of the Nashville Gigi’s Cupcakes, loved by Orakpo and Griffin as Titans teammates, took hold. “We always go hang out during the offseason,” according to Griffin “We were very familiar with Gigi’s because Brian and I played in Nashville where the company originated, so Brian came up with the idea of why don’t we open up a cupcake shop here in Austin?” (Jay Scott Smith, The Grio) One trip by the TN location with Hynson and the plan to bring Gigi’s Cupcakes to Austin was off and running.
Hard Work, No Coasting
But Orakpo and Griffin aren’t just silent financial partners signing the checks and smiling for photos. Even Gigi Butler, the franchise owner, initially thought Orakpo and Griffin would be “Cinderella princesses” in regards to their involvement with the popular franchise (Cameron Wolfe, ESPN).
Not so, both now former Titans open the shop, decorate and bake every cupcake they sell as well as manage the front-end of customer service and closing. “I’m so aggressive at times that you have to tone that down when you’re dealing with everyday people and customers. It’s a different way of life,” said Orakpo of the venture.
And it’s paying off. According to Griffin, their Bee Cave store had the biggest grand opening in the history of Gigi’s Cupcakes. Pretty impressive for a franchise that has more than 100 stores in 23 states, though Orakpo and Griffin try to keep themselves grounded. “It’s just been blowing up because people love me and Griff’s story,” said Orakpo “so it’s just taken a life of its own.” (Erik Bacharach, The Tennessean). It’s not just a vanity project Griffin is quick to clarify. “We know all the ins and outs,” he said. “After this commercial, we’re getting more and more business and I had to come in. It’s a team effort.
“There was a time when we had to go our separate ways with a manager and I was acting manager/baker for about five or six weeks, and I was coming in at 6:00 every morning baking and preparing the store,” he added. “If you asked me to go in and bake right now, I could go in and bake and decorate. It’s something we took pride in.” (Jay Scott Smith, The Grio)
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But the real goal for the former Titans safety and linebacker is focusing on family. “When we signed our LLC, we made sure there was no family member involvement,” said Griffin. “We want to hold each other accountable. We bump heads, but we have a strong friendship, and we don’t let that get between us,” he added. “It’s a partnership. We’ll never let cupcakes get between our friendship.” (Jay Scott Smith, The Grio)
Cupcakes, family, friendship and hopes to inspire other players with that entrepreneurial spirit. Sounds like a pretty sweet life post career.
Seriously. Check out Gigi’s Cupcakes in Bee Cave’s menu. It does look pretty decent.
About Author: Courtney CK Kimball has somehow appeared in several music videos (including GWAR and Anthrax), shown a self-directed short at The Egyptian, written literary reviews for horror magazines and tries too hard to make people laugh.
Brian and Michael aren’t the only players making moves off the field, check out what other players have been working on over our in Recess Sports Business section.