For a business born out of a pun that grew into a hoax, Double or Muffin is an admirable new member of San Francisco's homegrown pop-up scene. The story is a backward one, a muffin shop that had a website and promotional shirts before there were ever muffins. It started when Ben Gifford and Sean Pears were standing in line at bakery in their hometown of Newton, Mass.
"One of us just said 'double or muffin.' We laughed about it for a few days, and then realized there was actually a game you could play that would correspond exactly."
The game is this: You buy a muffin, and flip a quarter. Heads, you get a second muffin for free. Tails, you keep the one you've already got. You get double, or muffin. The joke kept advancing, and the idea stayed in their heads until Gifford quit his post-grad job this year and trademarked the name "Double or Muffin" the next day. He crowdsourced the logo, designed T-shirts, started the website, and Double or Muffin went live ... with no muffins.
He sold apparel off the site, and the gimmick got some press. After a while, Gifford figured, why not actually sell muffins? He found himself playing with recipes in his kitchen, testing batches on family and friends. He takes existing recipes and works them over with ingredients like bananas, yams, and pumpkins, integrating such cultish favorites as bacon and Nutella.
It wasn't until Gifford decided to pop up on a fraternity row during homecoming week that he realized he might have something special. People loved the idea, and he sold out of muffins.
Double or Muffin stayed mostly under the radar until August of this year, when the gimmick somehow crept onto Reddit, roared up to the No. 2 spot, and poured 130,000 hits onto the Double or Muffin website. Apparel orders flooded in from all over the world, alongside requests for muffins, but Gifford is not yet comfortable shipping the edible half of his business.
Flipping coins for free food sounds well and good, but how real is a gimmick that started out as a fake bakery, with a business model based on gambling? It's very real, says Gifford. "What keeps the business grounded in reality is setting up every weekend in the park, talking to people, and selling the real muffins. You also encounter some strange human behavior when you have people gambling for food."
Gifford now works in alternative energy in San Francisco and ships muffin shirts on his lunch break, while Pears is back in school on the East Coast.
Gimmick aside, Double or Muffin sells some solid muffins. There are thoughtful experiments with fall vegetables and unexpected flavors, integrating reliable doses of chocolate. Banana chocolate chip is a crowd favorite, and Gifford is always playing with new ideas. If the stars align, there could be a brick-and-mortar space for Double or Muffin in the future. Until then, visit Gifford on weekends at Duboce Park to get your fix. Or two fixes, depending on your luck.