After growing up in the small town of Kennesaw, Georgia, moving to New York City to attend New York University was a culture shock for Melissa Bartow.
“I was immersed in a whole new world of food,” she says. “I started shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and trying all of these things I had never tried before!” One of those new foods was naturally sweet dates.
The idea for Wanna Date? took hold during Bartow’s junior year, when she began working in foodservice. The shop’s best seller was an acai bowl with Nutella. Bartow liked the idea of combining something healthy with something sweet to create a decadent, nutritious treat. Dates seemed like the perfect ingredient.
Though avocado bowls and cauliflower rice were the big food trends at the time, Bartow had a feeling that dates were going to be the next big thing. “I knew that someone was going to do this one day, and if it wasn’t me, I would be kicking myself,” she says.
From her dorm room, Bartow started blending dates to create sweet spreads that could be slathered on bread, added to ice cream, or eaten straight out of the jar. From there, she experimented blending the dates with other ingredients to create flavors like chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, and pumpkin spice.
Earlier this year, Wanna Date? was featured on an episode of Shark Tank, where Bartow accepted $100,000 from investor Mark Cuban in exchange for 33 percent of the company. The episode aired a second time right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, helping to boost online sales.
Cuban’s investment helped fund research and development and allowed Bartow to expand distribution. Wanna Date? launched in Whole Foods Market locations in the Midwest in July, and she is hoping to roll out the product further into the Northeast in the fourth quarter. “I’m looking forward to our first holiday season in retail; we’re going to have some great Black Friday sales,” Bartow says.
Arielle Feger is content association for Specialty Food.
Photo credit: Melissa Bartow