A couple of local food businesses have been singing praises of the Music City's inspiration, even on a national basis: The Cupcake Collection and 400 Degrees Hot Chicken.
She's Got Cupcakes, Baby!
"At The Cupcake Collection, we're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We're just trying to do classic things well. Our cupcakes taste homemade because they are homemade, right in the space where I raised my family," says founder and CEO Mignon Francois. “I'm a kid who loves cake and I believe there's always a reason for a celebration. When you visit The Cupcake Collection, it’s like you’re coming over to my house. The spirit of the Francois family exists here and because I’m a person who is full of joy and excitement you should feel the energy when you visit!”
Using her “Follow Your Spirit” approach, Mignon developed an iconic flavor that drew lines and attention to the hip nature of her historic Germantown neighborhood. The success of TCC thereby became icing on the cake amongst the existing North Nashville restaurateurs, one that ignited a new movement to the area for other business concepts that might not otherwise have considered doing business in North Nashville.
Since launching in 2008, Mignon’s business savvy has earned her the titles of “Woman of Legend and Merit” by Tennessee State University, “Emerging Business Leader of the Year” and Black Enterprise Magazine's “Family Business of the Year Award."
She also was spotlighted recently on "TODAY with Hoda & Jenna," "Fox Soul’s Book of Sean," "The Rachel Cruze Show" and "We are Millennial Women." National references also have come from the Business Insider, the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.
Mignon lends her talent as a Nashville community cheerleader and entrepreneur to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation Foundation, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Pathway Women’s Business Center and to Republic Charter Schools as a board member. Mignon received her bachelor's degree from Houston Baptist University. She's currently working on a master's degree from Lipscomb University. In her spare time, Mignon enjoys reading, walking the Nashville Greenway, and donut sampling around the country as a self-proclaimed donut aficionado.
Mignon says she didn't know how to bake before starting the cupcake company and that she was desperate to get out of prior debt. But, she believed in her vision and built the cupcake business into a multimillion company, even opening a second store in New Orleans, which is operated by her sisters. She declares she's adamant about using her public platform and speaking opportunities to promote financial freedom, ownership and independence through entrepreneurship.
This destination bakery features traditional, rosette, textured, ruffle, vegan gluten-free, drip, sprinkle-surprise and smash celebration cakes. They also make a half-sheet cake.
Cupcake flavors span sweet potato, red velvet, strawberry, wedding cake, lemon berry, strawberry cheesecake, cookies n' cream, birthday cake, chocolate, classic yellow, carrot cake, sweet lemonade, gluten-free and vegan. Additionally, customers can get cupcake minis. They even sell pupcakes, baking mix and birthday cake candles.
Can You Make Chicken Any Hotter?
Born from Aqui Hines' love for iconic Prince's Hot Chicken, everything that comes from her 400 Degrees kitchens pays homage to the original Nashville Hot Chicken. She even sells her own authentic hot chicken seasoning and flaming merchandise online.
"My recipe originated from me wanting Prince's chicken when they were closed," she says, but notes that they don't use precise measurements when making food to order.
Starting with a food truck, this native Nashvillian -- known as "your hometown hottie" -- now has a restaurant at 3704 Clarksville Pike and since this March also can be found at Concourse/Terminal C at the Nashville International Airport (BNA).
The name comes from the “400 degrees” spice level, the hottest chicken she offers, which even leaves fingers tingling. Some customers indicate the 400-degree chicken is a memory that will last forever. They also have the 100-degree level, which they consider mild, and the 200-level, which is viewed as medium. Even her fries are sprinkled with fiery spices. Customers also like the baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw.
"The thicker the coating, the hotter the chicken is," she explains.
Aqui's hot chicken recipe calls for deep-frying rather than pan- or skillet-frying the chicken, and her thicker-coated version is consistently touted among the best in Nashville. She delights in sharing alluring images of her creations on social media, and even created a video to coach people how to make their own versions of hot chicken, which includes the following approach:
- Aqui starts with fresh (never frozen) chicken, with individual pieces washed in a large bowl of cold water.
- Chicken pieces are rolled in flour that's seasoned with garlic and Morton's seasoning salt.
- Her dry spice combo is cayenne, paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder and allspice.
- Fry each order fresh, which takes at least 20 minutes.
- Put "a bunch" of the spices in a deep rectangular pan, place the freshly-fried chicken on top and scoop a small ladle of hot oil in the pan. Toss the combo until well coated.
- For hotter chicken, use more spice and less oil.
- For really hot chicken — the "400 degrees" level — Aqui adds a little dry habanero to the spice mix.
- For the extra-hot levels — 800 degrees or 900 degrees — Aqui adds hotter powdered peppers, such as dragon's breath, scorpion powder or ghost pepper.
Her eat-at-your-own risk chicken has caught the attention of national television, such as the Travel Channel's Food Paradise and ABC News. In addition to chicken quarters, wings and tenders, 400 Degrees offers seasoned pork chops, fish and shrimp. "Our food is crunchy, tender and juicy. And spicy. You need to have an explosion in your mouth," she suggests.
The restaurant is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.