Gigi of Gigi’s Cupcakes has been a self-starter since she was 15. That’s when she began her first business—a cleaning company—because she "didn’t want to work for anyone else." What began as a youthful whim blossomed into a business that, along with waiting tables and singing professionally, carried Gigi into her 30s.
Then, one day, her brother suggested making a career out of her baking hobby. That pastime had been born in her childhood, when Gigi often spent time with her mother and grandmother as they baked and bonded. So, amid seemingly insurmountable financial constraints, Gigi unveiled Gigi’s Cupcakes in 2008 and, within weeks, had more than covered her bills. Today, the franchise boasts more than 50 locations in the 18 states that haven’t outlawed dessert.
Each bakery crafts its cupcakes daily with fresh ingredients, and updates the menu according to day of the week and season. Traditional summer flavors such as Scarlett’s red velvet, chocolate-chip-cookie dough, and Birthday Surprise have recently met their culinary match in new mini cheesecakes that masquerade as cupcakes to rebel against their conservative wedding-cake parents.
Though they spend much of their time mixing ingredients and dialing in oven temperatures, the team at Mary's Cakes and Pastries has also perfected the art of building cars, football stadiums, and mandolins. The designs are all custom cakes decorated with layers of fondant and buttercream icing to bring customers’ ideas to life. In addition to their edible sculptures, the kitchen crew bakes fresh cookies and pastries each day and fires up lunch specialties such as stuffed croissants and turkey gumbo.
Basked in natural light and the glow of hanging pendant lights, Courtyard Cafe’s interior is filled with the aroma of carved corned beef, fried green tomatoes, and smoked turkey. These aromas waft from the deli counter, where sandwich makers craft lunch fare such as reubens, burgers, and club sandwiches. Trays of cupcakes crafted with whipped green, red, and yellow frosting line up alongside full-size cakes customized by an in-house cake designer for special events such as weddings and wedding proposals to cakes. The staff also leads cooking classes that teach kids the culinary skills to bake pies, pizza, or Asian dishes. Housed in a downtown building erected in 1887, the Courtyard Cafe’s red-brick exterior evokes a bygone era seen in historical black and white photos lining the straw-colored walls inside. Customers can sit at counters or tables inside, or relax on a landscaped patio next to trees, shrubbery, and a trickling fountain.
Sweet-tooth sovereign Donna Ray McDow rules over a kingdom of decadent treats handmade from the freshest of ingredients. Each week, six of 24 gourmet mini-cake varieties—including southern red velvet, rocky road, and orange delight—are showcased in the store’s grab-and-go case, and orders for specific flavors can be placed ahead of time. Keep roving bands of physicians away with the wholesome apple-a-day cupcake, or paint a dreary beige tongue pink with the strawberry special, a chiffon cake base filled and covered with strawberry icing and artfully crowned with fresh fraise. The lemon-basil cupcake’s fruit-and-herb duet is accompanied by the smooth stylings of lemon Bavarian cream and candied peel, rendering it an ideally refreshing complement to a dinner of lemon-basil chicken or a cup of German lemon milk.
Armed with just a single, generations-old cookie recipe, Great American Cookies opened its first store in 1977, and the rest is history. Today, the franchise boasts locations in malls across the country and nabbed a coveted spot on Entrepreneur magazine?s 2012 list of Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. The shop?s reputation grew, and so did its menu as chefs churned out a mouthwatering roster of gourmet-cookie recipes, each created and carefully tested in Atlanta. The tempting options now include snickerdoodle, peanut butter with M&M?s, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real showstoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
It?s always swimsuit season inside Rio Tan, where six levels of tanning booths reward customers with a bronze, attention-grabbing glow. The salon offers six levels of tanning to accommodate a wide range of skin types, as well as spray tans for optimal convenience. Aiming to keep bodies in shape, Fit and Sudatronic body wraps expose them to slimming infrared heat, which is usually found on the dark side of the sun.