Gigi’s Cupcakes in Opelika features first drive-thru “Sweet Lane”

For Jennifer and Patrick Cooper, owners of five Gigi’s Cupcakes locations, business has never been sweeter.

In February, the husband and wife team opened their newest location at 3794 Pepperell Parkway in Opelika. It’s the only franchise location in the company with a drive-thru, appropriately named the “Sweet Lane.” Now, customers can satisfy their Gigi’s craving without ever leaving their vehicle.

Customers simply drive up to the window where a menu is listed to their left, give their order, pay and receive their purchase. It was important to the Coopers that there wasn’t a speaker system, so they could continue their face-to-face customer service.

“It’s been a dream of mine to have a drive-thru,” explained Jennifer. “And when we learned this property would have a corner build-out, it just fell into place. We met with Gigi about the idea, and she was excited about it. She said, ‘Go for it!’.”

 The Coopers first met Gigi Butler back in 2009, just three weeks after their first child was born. They’d become fans of the gourmet
cupcakes, known for their signature tall swirl of icing. Through happenstance and professional setback, they found themselves interested in opening their own franchise. At the time, Gigi’s Cupcakes was a relatively new company, so Jennifer and Patrick became one of the first five franchisees.

During the months before that meeting, the Coopers were looking for a fresh start. Jennifer was working as a 7th grade science teacher. But, Patrick’s family had recently been forced to close their once successful hosiery manufacturing business in Fort Payne, where he worked. Across the entire industry, American production had slowed to a halt because they couldn’t compete with cheaper overseas labor costs.
With a child on the way, Patrick was researching new options, leaning on his experience in the family business. Jennifer, who had recently visited a Gigi’s Cupcakes in Tennessee, happened to think back to a Gigi’s menu she’d recently picked up that included information about franchise opportunities.

“I was half-joking, and half serious when I said, ‘What about bringing a Gigi’s to Auburn?’ We’d both gone to school there and talked about one day moving back,” Jennifer remembered.

Months later, they sat across a table from Gigi, finalizing details of their first location in Auburn, which opened in August 2010. It began a whirlwind of excitement and expansion over the next six years, which included the Coopers opening four additional locations.

In December 2011, they opened in Montgomery. The next year, ​they opened in Columbus, Ga., and the following year in Prattville. This past February, they completed work on the Opelika location – the one that features the first ever “Sweet Lane.”

“We are so thankful for the opportunities this business has given us,” said Jennifer. “I don’t think we ever imagined we’d be in the food industry, but we are both avid learners, and have loved every minute of this experience.”

When asked about the most rewarding aspect of their work, Jennifer says it’s the people. As a former teacher, she says, “I love that I still get to ‘teach,’ and make an impact on the lives of our employees and customers.”

While many who work at the Coopers’ stores have made bakery work their career, they also hire many college students.

“My goal is for them to leave here, when they graduate, having learned a skill that will set them up for lifelong success. I am known for telling employees, ‘Eat your frogs first.’ And that means, do the hardest thing you have to do for the day, first. That way, the rest of your day is easier,” Jennifer said. “I have former employees who’ve kept in touch over the years, and they told me, they still remember that.”

The Coopers and their Gigi’s Cupcake locations in Auburn, Montgomery, Columbus, Prattville, and Opelika, have been members of the Alabama Retail Association since 2010.

You can visit the history-making Sweet Lane at Gigi’s Cupcakes in Opelika from ​9 a.m.​ to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 6 p.m.

Story and photos by Melissa Johnson Warnke