News you can trust since 1817

Scotland's Larder: Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife

We chat to Darren Somerville, the man behind The Muffin Man, about moving to Fife, making big changes in life and starting his bakery business during lockdown.

Published: June 29, 2021
Categories: ,

Darren Somerville was born and brought up in Glasgow, one of four brothers, he said "so we had a busy household."

After school he went to Reid Kerr college in Paisley, where he trained as a chef for year, but he admits it wasn't his first career choice, "I wanted to fly jets, but academically I wasn't that great so I had to think of something else."

He then went on to have a career in hospitality, working his way up through all departments to become a hotel manager working in both England as well as in Scotland.

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He said, "when you are a manager of a hotel you have to step in to do everything, and you have to know everyone else's job. So if someone doesn't turn up or a disaster happens then you can step in."

Caledonia calling

He returned to his Glasgow roots to be closer to his family.

After the birth of his first child, Pierre, he explains, "my wife was from France, and she was having difficulty settling in a new country with a baby.

"My work hours didn't suit a young family so we decided that it was time for a complete change of career, and I went to work for my family's firm."

The family business was a packaging company called Somerville and Morrison.

Scotland's Larder: Judith Vajk from Caledonian Oysters Co

He said, "I was one of the rebel ones growing up I didn't want to go into the family business.

It all adds up

"The business was needing modernised. Initially I came in to do the quality assurance side then I retrained as an accountant.

"At school, the careers advisor had kept saying you're good at maths, be an accountant but I hated maths at school," he laughs,"but I'm actually good at it."

After his parents retired the business was sold, but he continued to work as an accountant elsewhere.

Scotland's Larder: Alex Dalgetty & Sons Galashiels

He and his wife then decided to relocate over to France to give their now four boys a French upbringing.

Living abroad

While the family were living in France near Carcassonne, the children helped rekindled his love of baking.

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He said over there the, "the food culture is completely different, we were surrounded by vineyards with fantastic weather. There was fresh produce in the markets, a very different way of living.

"In France at the boys school, they would ask the parents to contributed a dessert for lunch.

Edinburgh bakers Twelve Triangles are bringing their sourdough, provisions and delicious pastries to Morningside

"Initially I only baked 20 muffins, but because everyone wanted them I ended up doing over a hundred."

His marriage then broke up, he said "we were out there for three years, and after a messy divorce in the French courts I got granted sole custody of the kids and I came back to Scotland as a single dad with four boys."

Homeward bound

Darren settled in Elie in Fife, where his parents were living, and the boys fell back into the Scottish way of life very quickly.

Olivier was six when they moved back to Scotland, so he has been a single dad for six years now.

He said, "I had always been the cliched dad that was away out working while their mum was the one who did everything else but all of a sudden I had to do it all, so it was challenging.

"I had to change my whole approach with the boys, I was the strict dad before but I became very chilled and relaxed, with a handful of rules."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Now his eldest, Pierre is 22, Sean 20, Rémy 17 and Olivier is 12.

After coming back in Scotland, he worked as a financial controller, but about a year and a half ago he re-evaluated his career and made the decision to escape the corporate world and become his own boss.

Start up lockdown

Darren decided to turn his cake baking hobby into a business and The Muffin Man was born.

He said, "I went to the job centre, there was a scheme called the new enterprise scheme which was set up to help new businesses which I joined, it is run by Benarty Regeneration Action Group."

As a result, "I ended up getting my kitchen space at their Crosshill site."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He opened a cafe for the other tenants in the building, to provide fresh soup, toasties and cakes to help kickstart his business, but unfortunately lockdown happened.

He said, "so there was no point in opening, instead I just concentrated on online sales and making muffins for local farmers markets."

Pantry Project

Benarty Regeneration Action Group, is better known as Brag Enterprises decided to launch 'The Pantry Project,' to feed locals who had been badly financially affected during lockdown.

Many people had been furloughed, or their household income had dropped, so it was difficult for a lot of families to make sure their kids had a meal.

Brag Enterprises asked Darren if he could help by making ready meals, and he volunteered his time, "it is my way of giving back."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He said, "it will be sad to have to give that up, but the enterprise scheme is ending and I'm moving to a new premises in St Monans this month."

During the past year and a half, Darren has grown his business and his brand and he said, "it is starting to pay off.

"A lot of people know who I am now, and I have a big following on social media and my customers are willing to travel to all the markets."

Marketing

Most weekends, Darren can usually be found selling his muffins at various farmers markets throughout Fife, or at Common on the Croft in Leith on Sunday.

As a result of Covid restrictions he only displays a single cake of each type, although that is around twenty different flavours, but his full range is available online.

All the other muffins are kept safely behind the stall and then boxed up for the customer.

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He is constantly busy baking, he said "I can make up to a thousand cakes each week for all the different markets I do and I also bake birthday cakes to order."

He also bakes for other businesses, he said, "I supply Muffin Man cakes to delis, cafes and tea shops and I brand them with the individual company's own edible logo."

He plans to keep doing the markets, as well as online orders and deliveries, but looking further ahead he might open a cafe or a shop in the future.

Just now he is content to look after his loyal core customers and get more people talking about, The Muffin Man

Risky business

All in all Darren is glad he took the risk to start his own business, he said, "I am happy I did it, and it has brought me closer to home and to my kids.

"I'm no longer jetting around the world so it has definitely has been a good move."

He admits, "It has been a long hard slog, starting any business involves hard work and long hours, but at the end of the day you are only as good as the last cake you make."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

His family are some of his greatest supporters, his youngest son Olivier loves his Rocky Road Muffin, which is one of his best selling flavours.

His eldest son Pierre, prefers the Apple Pie Muffin, which Darren explains, "is very fresh tasting, and full of apple pieces."

He has worked hard to develop his recipe, which he feels is the key ingredient to their success.

Research and development

He explains the recipe took many years of perfecting, learning from feedback, he said, "it took a long, long time but we got there."

To get the Muffin Man off to a flying start, Darren worked with focus groups, including the lecturers of Fife College to select the right flavours and, crucially, get the price right.

He said, "there was a lot of work before I actually went out to sell to the public, but I think that has helped with customer satisfaction."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

That customer response is vitally important to Darren, he said "I have put lots of smiles on faces, and I love that look of excitement, and peoples reaction when they taste the cakes.

"It makes it all worthwhile when they post a good recommendation or review on social media."

He describes one lady's reaction, saying, " she raved about her rhubarb and custard cupcake.

"If you read it, it sounded as if it was a romantic novel. She really thoroughly enjoyed that cake!"

Sweet tooth

Being a type one diabetic, Darren doesn't get to eat lots of cakes, but he says, "the smells are absolutely incredible when you open the boxes."

He is pragmatic about his condition, he said, "you can't moan about it, many people live with it so I just have to get on with it. I have plenty of volunteers to taste for me."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson


He is proud to have made such a big change in his life, he said, "I have accomplished a lot, and I have worked hard to try and build this business.

He adds, "I didn't want to be sitting in an office anymore."

Darren is proud of being a single father and bringing up four boys but he admits, that "it has been a challenging job."

He is equally proud of The Muffin Man, and said, "This is something I have done on my own, and now the Muffin Man brand is being talked about so I just need to keep going."

Darren Somerville The Muffin Man, Fife. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The Muffin Man stall. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The Muffin Man

themuffinman-fife@outlook.com

• READ MORE: Scotland's larder: Sandy Pattullo Asparagus & Sea Kale farmer from Eassie

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

Let us know what you think

comments

©JPIMedia Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.
Cookie SettingsTerms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy
crossmenu linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram