Gifford ’10 founds muffin company
By Clifton Lyons And Felicia Schwartz, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Ben Gifford ’10, the valedictorian of his class, left his job at Bridgewater Associates after a year and a half. The next day, he decided to open a San Francisco-based bakery called Double or Muffin, an idea he and his childhood friend and Double or Muffin co-founder Sean Pears conceived while they were at a coffee shop in their hometown of Newton, Mass., according to Gifford.
“It was the summer after college graduation and we were waiting in line, making bad jokes, when one of us said ‘double or muffin,’” Gifford said. “It’s really unclear who said it first, and we kind of forgot about it initially, but before long we realized that there was an actual game you could play that corresponded pretty much perfectly with the pun. You would buy a muffin and flip a coin — heads you’d get a second muffin for free, tails you’d keep the muffin you already bought.”
Gifford, who does not have any prior entrepreneurial experience, had planned on pursuing other career paths post-graduation. After being rejected from several teaching programs in Asia, Gifford subsequently joined Bridgewater Associates in May 2010.
“I actually liked the company and the people a lot, and, as I had hoped, I learned a ton,” Gifford said. “But at the end of the day, I’m really just not that passionate about macroeconomics or financial markets.”
Gifford left Bridgewater in February 2012 at a “natural breaking point.” He said that his bosses at Bridgewater were unsurprised when he decided to leave, because he had previously had conversations with them about his conclusion that Bridgewater was not his “calling.”
Gifford and Pears then began discussing the possibility of actually opening a bakery. After purchasing the domain name doubleormuffin.com, they began meeting with bakers, conducting research and testing recipes in Gifford’s kitchen.
“By the time I left Bridgewater, the next logical joke seemed to be to form the LLC, trademark the name, hire logo designers, print apparel and build the website,” Gifford said. “The rest is kind of history.”
Double or Muffin is often compared to Johnny Cupcakes, which also relies heavily on bakery-themed apparel for marketing purposes, according to Gifford. Double or Muffin’s biggest source of revenue is apparel. Customers will sample the muffins and purchase T-shirts if they are excited about the company’s concept, but Gifford has also generated interest through more unconventional means.
Gifford said that some of the company’s most successful advertising came through his friendship with the frontman of the band Timeflies, who wore a Double or Muffin shirt in one of their music videos.
Gifford also posted a link to his company’s website on Reddit — an internet link aggregator — telling its users, “Today I learned there’s a restaurant where you can gamble with muffins.” The post generated over 2,000 unique hits to the website.
Without a physical store, Giffords and Pears sell their muffins in various locations in San Francisco. Usually based out of parks, their stand is a table decorated with Double or Muffin logos, Gifford said.
Double or Muffin recipes are initially found on the Internet, but Gifford experiments with them until he is satisfied with the product, he said.
“Recipes on the Internet will get you 80 percent there,” he said. “They are not hard to make, but it takes a lot of trial and error to perfect.”
Double or Muffin’s signature flavors are banana chocolate chip and maple bacon corn muffins, he said. This week’s “new, hot experimental flavor” is peanut butter with Nutella filling.
The quality of the muffins Double or Muffin sells is key to the business’s success, Gifford said.
“Any food business — even if it has a gimmick — needs to be anchored in the quality of the product,” he said.
Alexi Pappas ’12, who was a member of the improvisational comedy group Dog Day Players with Gifford and assisted him with marketing for Double or Muffin, said she admires Gifford’s business endeavors.
“I enjoy Double or Muffin because not only is the idea original and fresh, but also the muffins are delicious,” Pappas said. “I don’t doubt with Ben’s work ethic and creativity that he can take this business far. Who doesn’t want to have a little opportunity for chance in their everyday lives?”
Gifford said that he and Pears plan on expanding their business to different cities once their business makes enough money to do so.
“I wouldn’t want it to become a chain or anything like that, but having a handful of establishments in select locations across the U.S. would be awesome,” Gifford said. “Someday we may also go international. I’ve already laid the groundwork for Double or Muffin’s Argentine cousin, Todo o Empanada.”
As a student at Dartmouth, Gifford, a philosophy major, was a member of the Dog Day Players, the opinion editor and a staff columnist for The Dartmouth, a DJ for Dartmouth College Radio, a crew member on the Big Green Bus and a member of Bones Gate fraternity.
Staff writer Matthew McNierney contributed reporting for this article.