Every week, the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute elects a Startup of the Week (SOTW). We then invite the founders of these startups to share a blog post with our community. These posts can be inspirational, educational, or entertaining. Founders can share founding stories, resources, lessons, or anything else they want. During the month of March, to celebrate Women's History Month, all our SOTWs have at least one female founder.
This blog post was written by Melissa Bartow (Gallatin '19), founder of Wanna Date?.
It’s funny...I’d never heard of dates, seen a date, nor knew what dates were before I scrolled by one on Instagram in 2017. A cool vegan lifestyle influencer I followed was raving about how sweet and delicious dates were, and how she ate them everyday. Around that time, I took notice as RXBars were popping up at every coffee shop register, every pharmacy store shelf, grocery store, gym... you name it. The first thing I noticed with RXBars was that the packaging listed “dates” right smack on the front as their main ingredient. I enjoyed eating RXBars, of course, who didn’t?
While I went about my days, NYU classes, my fitness regime (huge runner), along with my part time job at a smoothie bowl shop, RXBar was acquired by Kellogg for $600 million. I freaked out when I read the headline; RXBar had only been in business for three short years. The majority of the company’s success had been attributed to their brilliant package design, highlighting the products’ healthy ingredients on the front for consumers; highlighting dates.
As luck would have it, one day I finally came across a box of dates – live, whole, and in person – for the first time in my life while at Trader Joe’s. I bought the box, curious to taste what that vegan lifestyle influencer had been all hyped about. Although the fruit looked weird and kinda like a roach, I ate it and it was love at first bite (as I’m sure you may have guessed).
From then on I ate dates every day. Meanwhile, I continued to read and watch as RXBar’s sales skyrocketed. I took notice as kids next to me in class snacked on Larabars (which are also made with dates), and definitely took note when “date syrup” brands began popping up on my newsfeed, then on shelves at my local Whole Foods. Every day I would walk around Whole Foods as if it were a museum, gazing at the weird, innovative snacks lining the aisles and freezers, like cauliflower pizza crust, sweet potato chips, and açaí pints of ice cream. As I walked down the diverse aisle of nut butters and jams I consciously wondered why there wasn’t a “date butter.” Dates were packaged in so many other food-forms like snack bars, energy bites, syrups... and at my smoothie shop job the toppings menu had everything from almond butter, to apple butter, peanut butter, pumpkin butter, honey, white chocolate... even an açaí bowl topped with Nutella. Surely there had to be a “date butter” out there.
As hard as I tried I couldn’t find one anywhere in Whole Foods. I went back to my dorm to search for date butter on Google, and still nothing. The only thing that came up was a page of Pinterest posts about how to make homemade “date caramel.” They said to simply mix dates, water, and anything else you wanted in a food processor until a smooth, paste-like consistency resulted. I didn’t have a food processor (nor a kitchen at the time) so I bought a cheap one off of Amazon. The next day I went to Whole Foods, purchased a 1 lb bag of pitted dates, some cinnamon, and blended it all together and – holy s*** – the results tasted amazing.
I spent the week making more flavors, brought the homemade date spreads to my smoothie shop job for coworkers to taste (they loved it of course) and from there decided to use the date spread idea as a project for one of my business classes. I thought-up the name “Wanna Date?” and sketched out and printed a dozen labels. Finally, when the semester came to an end, I couldn’t stop dreaming about what this could be. Date spread had to be a thing and if I didn’t pursue the idea, someone else would, and I’d spend the rest of my life regretting having not done it. Despite being a junior in college and not knowing the first thing about starting a food company, or any kind of company for that matter, I knew that other people were out there running businesses without any idea what they were doing either. If these people could figure it out, I could too.
Now, Wanna Date? has 5 different flavors: Chocolate, Cinnamon, Pumpkin Spice, Vanilla, and Original. Our product is vegan, gluten free, nut free, soy free, and paleo, with no added sugar. Wanna Date? pairs well with fruit, bread, pancakes, yogurt, ice cream, smoothies, and pretty much anything else you can think of. If you want to learn more about our spreads (and order some!), check out our website – we even have recipes to inspire you!