Hi everyone! I’m Melissa. I enjoy long walks down the aisles of Whole Foods and eating my body weight in fruit. Dates specifically; they're my absolute favorite. I had my first date (Talking about the fruit...I'd been on dates before) when I moved to New York City for college and it was love at first bite. Dates are SO sweet and SO good for you! Better yet, dates have kept all of my unhealthy sugar cravings away. Overtime I found myself feeling so much happier and energized now that I could finally eat something sweet (and freaking-delicious) that didn't leave me feeling guilty. Food guilt was something I struggled with for years.
An Acai Shop Sparks an Idea
After bouncing around a few internships (one was at a PR agency, one was at Seventeen Magazine, but my favorite one had been at a food startup) I decided to get a job at a smoothie & acai bowl shop near campus. Primarily to eat free fruit all day long while getting paid and learning the ins and out of the amazing, ever evolving food industry.
During my very first shift at that acai bowl shop, I was shocked and disappointed when I saw that all of the acai we served was sweetened with added sugar. Over 15 grams per half cup! As if that wasn't bad enough, we would pour honey, agave, oily nut butters, even milk chocolate and hazelnut spread on top of the bowls. Smoothies and acai bowls are supposed to be healthy, but there was added sugar
and/or sweeteners in nearly everything! The acai was sweetened, the granola was sweetened, and the nut milks were too. Add all of that added-sugar up and you might as well just eat a pint of ice cream.
One day I wondered why we didn't simply sweeten our blends with dates. Dates are healthy, naturally sweet, and maybe there was a way we could drizzle the dates on the bowls like honey or peanut butter. So I went looking around stores and online for a “date butter,” but it didn’t exist.
DIY Date Spread
That week I hopped onto Amazon, bought a cheap food processor, and made my first batches of “date butter” in my dorm room with some dates, water, and cinnamon. The result tasted even better than plain dates! I started playing with other flavors like cocoa, vanilla, and pumpkin spice. I had all of my friends taste the spreads...and a few weeks later while I was running on the treadmill (where I do my best thinking) I had my next ah-ha moment; Wanna Date? would be the name!
A Crowdfunding Campaign
The puns and ideas kept flowing and everyone who tried my date spreads loved them. I couldn’t believe that a person hadn’t thought to create and sell date spread yet - I needed to be the first. I sketched some designs for labels, found a nice little Italian man in the West Village to print a dozen for me, and then I asked a couple of friends to blindly taste "Wanna Date?" on camera as I talked about the date spreads. In February of 2018 I posted that video on Indiegogo (a crowdfunding website) as my way of saying, “Okay self...you’ve promised people date spreads. Now there’s no turning back.”
Started from the dorm room, now we’re here.
Since then I've come to discover just how hard it is to formulate, manufacture, market, finance, sell, and distribute a food product. I probably Googled my way to a food science degree at this point, but I never gave up and just continued to figure it out as I went, everyday, always learning something new on the fly and solving problems as they presented themselves.
The story of Wanna Date? goes to show that if you are passionate, true to yourself, and 100% dedicated and determined to do something then you can figure it out. It’s never about age, experience, time, or expertise (because I was a 20 year old college kid with none). Now 24, I still feel like the queen of amateur hour over here using Google searches to power me through “CEO things,” as I call the hardcore business stuff. But beyond the daily struggles I genuinely do wake up excited every single day to open my laptop and get to work on Wanna Date?
Thanks for reading! I hope your innermost nerd feels a little less alone and a little more inspired.
P.S. If you're wondering about Shark Tank, yeah... THAT happened! CRAZY!