When I think of athletes who leave the sport they love and try and work on a new venture, cupcakes are something that I would never think would be an option. But when I sat down with current NFL player Brian Orakpo there was something that I saw in his eyes. The man is 6’4 and huge, but when he talked about watching a little kid try a Gigi cupcake for the first time there was something there. I could see it in his eyes and his face. There was love for what he his doing now. Brian spoke about the changes that he had to make when he left the restaurant for the field. And when he takes off his helmet for an apron.
Gigi’s on Bee Caves is owned by Brian Orakpo, Michael Griffin, and Bryan Hynson. All three are alums of the University of Texas. at Austin. They really do have something here with their location. I have been sitting here working on various things. The restaurant is just so inviting it makes you want to stay. I spent a lot of time watching how they interacted with the customers. It really is cool to watch the excitement of each customer as they approach the counter. Smiles on smiles. It’s addicting and fascinating to watch Alicia Puerto works the counter for the restaurant. Her excitement for what she does truly does show with each customer.
Why did you choose to do cupcakes and why in Bee Caves Texas?
Orakpo: I was first introduced to Gigi’s cupcakes when I first signed with the Titans. They actually brought a dozen cupcakes to me as a welcoming gift. I fell in love with the product. When I was in Austin with my partner, who used to play for the Titans as well we were looking for an investment project. We were at the Domain eating cupcakes and thought Gigi’s would be a great business to get into together. We chose this location because Gigi’s hadn’t really touched the Austin market. The three of us live in the Bee Caves area in the offseason. So we thought this would be a great location.
With Hey Cupcake and Sugar mammas being the two staples in Austin. Me personally, I am not a fan of either one. The thing that I really liked about what Gigi’s is doing is that you can really taste the freshness. It was moist and full of flavor. So I can understand you sitting there and eating the cupcakes and being like yes!!!!! We should do this.
While the three of us were hanging out we knew we had to get ready for the next chapter in our lives.
There are a lot of former athletes who get into the food industry after their life in professional sports. Most of them try their hand with fast food. Most buy a McDonalds or Wendy’s. I found it very smart that they chose to do cupcakes. It separates them from everyone else who does fast food. Being only 4 months out, where do you see the restaurant going from here?
We want to, of course, expand to Austin. We want to be in the city. We know we have to learn our craft first before we start to expand.
In the past, we have seen places like Hey Cupcake expand way too soon. They feel that they need to expand when things are starting to pick up. My advice to people like this has always been to slow down. Another thing that I like to give advice about it to be hands down. One thing that I really like about what you are doing is that you are very hands-on and you are looking out for your future. What do you think you have learned from being so hands-on and facing the fact that you are coming from two different worlds? This is different than going out and playing in front of 20,000 fans.
It’s very different. It’s one thing that people love to see. They love the fact that they can come in and see us working. Michael Griffin is in the back right now making cupcakes. We knew that we didn’t want to be one of those owners that just sign over a check. Being hands on is what we wanted. The three of us actually took a crash course at Gigi’s learning everything from ordering, baking, working the register, and which vendors to use.
What has been the best part for you so far?
For me its when little kids come in and try our cupcakes for the first time. I love to see that smile they have on their face. It’s very gratifying to see that they get happy over our product. Over something that I made.
One thing that I really like about the space is that you didn’t go big with it. It’s small and not over the top. Which makes it very inviting. Being who you are. Have you had problems with people coming in just to meet you or to get an autograph?
Well, this is something that we are used to. Michael and I are professional athletes. It’s something that we are used to. Airports, grocery stores, where ever. People stop us all the time.
At the growth that you at now. How soon do you think that you will be growing into the Austin market?
Right now we are just trying to perfect what we have now. We are still learning and trying to figure everything out. We haven’t really discussed when we want to grow. We just know that Austin is the market we want to be in.
I think that is a great answer. I have always told people that your customers will tell you when it is time for you to grow. When you start seeing multiple customers start to drive out here just to have your product. That’s when you know.
With Gigi’s being a national brand how has it been with your staff keeping up with the standards that you have set?
Gigi’s is known for their swirl. You want it to be the same here in Texas, Arizona California or where ever. One of the most difficult things is teaching people how to do everything the right way. It doesn’t take long once they get the hang of it. We try and keep it fun and a great environment. We want everyone to love to come to work. If you are a young person looking for a job. Or a baker who needs a job Gigi’s is a great place.
There is a question that we like to ask owner or chefs. It’s something that only you can answer. There are times as an owner or chef that you just know things are going right. For Cured chef Steve McHugh its when he sees a table go silent. For Jason it’s when a customer takes a bite and closes their eyes and says nothing. What is it for you? What makes it worth it for you?
For me, and only me it’s the returning customer. When I heard that someone drove from Georgetown just to try our product it did it for me. They passed up so many different delicacies and bakeries. But they chose to come and have our product. That’s the most gratifying thing for me.
Full honesty, I have been a huge fan of Brian Orakpo for many years. Doing this interview was something that I was really excited about. I learned so much about how he ran his business. There is so much more to this interview. Honestly, it was just so much to type. But one thing that I didn’t write about that was probably the best part for me is this. I love what I do. I have a passion for food. I have been a chef for most of my life. This is the first time that I have seen with my own eyes two guys that had no idea what it was like in the world that I call home. Go and learn everything that they can to run this business. They work hard at what they do. They know what they are doing. They have a passion for what they do. I told Brian Orakpo that I am fangirling over him running a cupcake business over him being the amazing football player that I have followed for years. The story for me was never about the cupcakes. Although they really are delicious. It’s about three guys taking a leap and chasing a dream.