From The Trenches: Interview with Diana Jarrar-Solomon, CEO of MAGICdATES
Hearing the name MAGICdATES might conjure up images of candle-lit dinners that may result in finding your soulmate. While that’s a seductive idea, the “date” we’re referring to here is the sweet and ancient fruit that grows on palm trees. We caught up with Diana Jarrar-Solomon, the founder of MAGICdATES and she confirmed that this association was ubiquitous and especially fun around Valentine’s Day. Diana is the maker of this whole-plant-powered snack that is gluten-free and contains no added sugar.
Meet Diana Jarrar-Solomon, Founder of MAGICdATES, a Whole-Plant Superfood Snack Company
You may be wondering what makes MAGICdATES so magical. Diana grew up eating dates, they were a staple in her home in Damascus, Syria. They were so common that she took them for granted and didn’t truly appreciate their superpower until adulthood. After moving to Los Angeles on her own, she became fascinated with cooking and food nutrition as a way to connect with others and make new friends. This led her to explore the history and benefits of dates and the deep roots of this caramel-like fruit in the Middle East and ancient Mesopotamia before that.
“I realized that with MAGICdATES, we have the opportunity to create shared moments across cultures and generations by using an Old World fruit in new ways”, says Diana.
LA Startups (LAS): What Are You Trying To Solve?
Diana Jarrar-Solomon (DJS): There is a sugar pandemic going on in our world. Given her love for cooking, Diana shared with us that she didn’t realize so much sugar was added to ready-made food and food byproducts. She understood that our bodies crave glucose for energy but that it doesn’t have to come from refined and processed sources. Diana thought, “Is it possible to indulge in something sweet that’s also good-for-you?” The answer was a passionate YES! So many of the snacks and nutrition bars available in the market were using low-quality date paste as a binder or a filler. Diana wanted to quench our cravings for a sweet treat by using the date fruit as the hero ingredient and letting it shine.
What makes MAGICdATES unique is that they use premium and nutrient-dense ingredients like walnuts and cacao nibs mixed into their bites. They are also the first snack company to combine dates and 100% dark chocolate. They’ve created unique flavor combinations like lemon + dates and date + 100% dark chocolate + hazelnuts. Their bites can also be used as the base for many homemade unique desserts like vegan snicker bars, plant-based lemon cheesecakes, and healthier Samoas (all can be found on their website).
LAS: How Did You Achieve This?
Diana and MAGICdATES got their start in 2017 at the local Brentwood Farmers Market. Diana wanted to prove her concept and get customer feedback quickly so she could learn and hone her recipe. The feedback from customers was positive and encouraging, which led to these flavors: coconut, chocolate, and lemon. This enabled her to fulfill value to her customers’ experience and desire for healthier and more delicious snacks that were accessible and on-the-go.
Diana hit the road soon after her Farmer’s market experience and landed MAGICdATES into their first 30 stores including the infamous Erewhon markets around LA. As an organic market that prioritizes clean and pure foods for the good of people and the planet, they were aligned with MAGICdATES clean label with 75% of their ingredients sourced from local California farms.
The journey, both mentally and emotionally challenging, allowed Diana to connect with like-minded mentors who believed in her and her mission. Soon, she launched in other states when the grocery chain Earthfare picked up MAGICdATES and more recently nationwide at Cost Plus World Market.
LAS: What’s The Impact on Community?
As a food company, Diana feels a sense of responsibility to create products so wholesome that she could share with her own family, friends, and loved ones. Food should feel nourishing and comforting at the same time without the guilty associations we’ve accumulated in our society. There’s an intrinsic opportunity for every food producer to start a dialogue around the food we eat and how we connect through it as humans.
We want to be part of the unfolding conversation concerning our broken food system in this country and we are using the date fruit as a vehicle. Diana finds it beautiful and poetic that date palm shoots were brought over from Morocco in the late 1800s and have thrived in the arid climate of California. She feels that a lot of immigrants like herself can relate to this journey from east to west.
LAS: Why Did You Join UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator?
Diana admits that she didn’t quite appreciate how challenging it would be to be a solopreneur. Although she has the fortune of being mentored by an experienced food-industry vet, she craved a supportive network on a day-to-day basis. For Diana, the most vital quality the UCLA accelerator offered to her was accountability.
The program is structured in such a way where they’re given the space to set goals and intentions and are then able to evaluate their progress in biweekly check-ins with the program directors and co-entrepreneurs.
For Diana, this was a powerful practice for two reasons: one, the tracking of objectives week-over-week allowed her to visualize and analyze her progress so that she can use what she learned to make better decisions and two, the interaction with other cohort entrepreneurs gave her space for community and empathy. Entrepreneurship is very much a mental marathon and she often needed that support and validation.
LAS: Exciting Upcoming Product & Events
MAGICdATES is working hard to make it easier for their customers to find their better-for-you treats. We can all use a little comfort during these strange times. While it’s easy to indulge in processed foods, a better-for-you snack like MAGICdATES is a great alternative. You can now find four of their products at all Whole Foods locations across Southern California (hint: check out their Instagram page for the list of stores).
Diana is also going live with QVC on August 25 for their “Gourmet Holiday” series. MAGICdATES also has a limited-edition flavor in the works and a pipeline of innovative products for those of us with a sweet tooth! Can’t wait to grab a bag or two!
MD NEW from Diana Jarrar on Vimeo.