From making tackles on the football field to…baking cupcakes? It was all part of the post-retirement business plan for former NFL players Michael Griffin and Brian Orakpo and their Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise.
When former NFL teammates Michael Griffin and Brian Orakpo decided to dip their toes into entrepreneurship, they knew they wanted to go about it differently. The former Pro Bowlers saw the hands-off, detached approach some athletes take in their investments and recognized they needed to be more attentive about the steps they took to ensure success.
“The only people that really have your best interests at heart is yourself,” says Griffin. “So we agreed to start this business, we all agreed that it wasn’t going to be any significant others, it wasn’t going to be family, it was going to have to be us three that run and operate our store.”
The two Titans teammates lived up to their pact. After playing his last down in 2016 and getting his degree from the University of Texas, Griffin planned to open a franchise of Gigi’s Cupcakes in Austin, alongside Orakpo and their longtime friend Bryan Hynson.
Their cupcake venture may seem like an odd pairing for the 6′ 0″, 200-pound safety and 6′ 4″, 257-pound linebacker, but both had a sweet tooth and thought cupcakes could be a recession-proof way to learn about business.
“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.”
Even though Orakpo was still playing in the NFL at the time, the two now retired football players were engaged in every step of the process, from picking a location and gaining permits to creating an operating agreement. Griffin and Hynson even built the entire interior of their store by themselves, which they now acknowledge as a time-consuming mistake.
And when it came time for them to put on their aprons and bake the store’s cupcakes, the NFL stars stepped up to the plate and used the same dedication that propelled them on the field. With Griffin baking, Orakpo decorating and Hynson manning the register, the three friends opened their store for business.
“The positive part that surprised me is how much they’re willing to actually get down and dirty,” says Hynson. “Grif will get in there and knock out 1,000 cupcakes on the day or Rak will be in there decorating the cupcakes and handling any kind of maintenance items.”
The trio started to gain national notoriety in 2019, when they released a viral commercial for the Microsoft Surface Pro. Since then, people around them have been dubbing them the “Cupcake Guys,” which they trademarked and ran with.
This past February, the Texas natives even premiered a show with Food Network called Cupcake Guys Training Camp, where the trio star as hosts and judges for contestant bakers competing for a $10,000 investment. The show took viewers behind the scenes of their bakery and showcased their playful side.
“The Microsoft commercial was not scripted. The Cupcake Guys Training Camp was not scripted. Like, that’s us,” says Griffin. “We joke around all day. We just have fun. When you’re not having fun, then that’s when you need to stop. And that’s the same way we took football.”
With the roller-coaster ride that was 2020, the Cupcake Guys adapted quickly to the pandemic, transitioning to takeout and delivery orders only. They also posted online instructional videos on how to bake cupcakes and even partnered with a local organization assisting foster care families.
Being Black business owners and leaders in their community, Hynson and Griffin also acknowledged the unique set of circumstances they faced last year after the killing of George Floyd and the protests across the country that followed.
“We got a lot of neighbors when it comes to business and it kind of opened people’s eyes, and people started checking on [us] and we started having more dialogue,” says Griffin. “We’re all doing well if everybody around us is doing well—you know, no man left behind.”
Opening the Gigi’s Cupcakes franchise has catapulted each of the Cupcake Guys onto their own career paths. Hynson and Orakpo plan to open an esports gaming facility in Austin within the next year, while Griffin took a broadcasting job with the Longhorn Network in 2018, covering his alma mater.
When asked whether he’s missed football at all since his retirement, Griffin showed no hesitation expressing contentment in his post-retirement career.
“Nah, it was a chapter of my life,” says Griffin. “When I first decided to retire, yes. But now you couldn’t pay me enough money to go back out there.”