It all started back in 1910 when Grandpa Wolferman's baker poured a mixture consisting largely of flour, water, yeast and salt into tuna fish cans. "The cans had their tops and bottoms cut out," explains Fred, "and the muffins were cooked on a hamburger grill." The muffins were sold, along with specialty items like chocolate-covered grasshoppers, in a chain of grocery stores owned by the Wolfermans. Although the last of the seven-store chain was forced to close down in 1972, the victim of supermarket efficiency, the mega-muffin lived on, at first just locally.
Wolferman, 41, an only child who studied history at Yale, was a Kansas City real estate broker until he went into the muffin biz full time 10 years ago. In his factory eight bakers turn out some 625,000 muffins a month (in five flavors, including blueberry and Cheddar cheese); packages of four sell for as much as $2.25 in trendy places like Bloomingdale's. Though his mail-order catalog also lists teas and marmalades, the muffins, which bring in $1.5 million a year, form the cornerstone of Wolferman's business.
Wolferman loves to rhapsodize on the beauty of his product, which he eats every other day or so. "The holes don't have a shotgun pattern," he boasts. "When you split them for toasting, you get peaks and valleys and the points get real crisp. Butter goes down the holes and gives them a completely different texture." As for the competition, Wolferman has nothing but disdain. Says he: "They're all midgets."
One Muffin Lane may not have the same resonance as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or 10 Downing Street, but it, too, is home to a world leader—of sorts. It is there, on a quiet street in an industrial suburb of Kansas City, that Wolferman's English muffins are made. Hailed by USA Today as the Rambo of English muffins, Wolferman's are a majestic two inches high and weigh four ounces, about twice the size of mere minnow muffins. In the eight years since Fred Wolferman started selling his muffins by mail, they have attracted more than 30,000 customers, among them Malcolm Forbes, Tom Watson and food writer Calvin Trillin.