From deep within the abyss of decadent frustration and a pandemic, something unexpected, wonderful, and yummy came forth. More or less.
Anna Petrova’s partner had celiac disease, which means he cannot eat foods with gluten, including anything with wheat, rye, barley, or anything potentially cross-contaminated with those ingredients. This meant Petrova, who considers herself a foodie, would sometimes ‘cheat,’ and have desserts with gluten when her husband wasn’t around. When the pandemic all but halted trips, she didn’t feel safe venturing out to fill her need for sweet, gluten-included delicacies.
“I got extremely frustrated and was like, ‘OK, I’ll make something that I really, really want, which was tiramisu,” Petrova said. “I decided to make it myself and my husband was like, ‘Oh, this is good.’ I gave it to other friends and family and they said it was really, really good.”
For a while, she was making her gluten-free tiramisu for friends and family, creating pallets and pallets of the dessert. Petrova was also a graduate student at N.C. State University, and ensconced in the school’s entrepreneurship environment, even though she never considered starting her own food company.
“I kept seeing a lot of these wonderful companies showing up and you know, just making it in effect if they have a problem they’re trying to solve,” she said. “During the pandemic, this was the problem I hit. I was like, ‘I’m done eating these mediocre desserts, and just mediocre food in general.’”
Petrova applied for and was accepted into the Miller Fellowship, which is a program at N.C. State that provides a stipend and supports students after graduation with bringing their ideas to fruition. Equipped with some financial backing, she spent a chunk of 2021 getting validation by doing research and testing her product with people other than friends and family. She put to work her degree in industrial design to move through the process of creating the CPG brand. Petrova tested the market, conducted surveys, and gave away a lot of samples. The feedback was outstanding, and provided viability for her tiramisu, and her company Wolfe Cravings.
Not bad for someone without a background in food preparation, although Petrova would say her passion for food started early as someone who grew up growing her own. As an adult, she’s enjoyed trying new restaurants and preparing new types of meals.
“Looking back on when I met my partner, one of the exciting things about when you meet somebody is you want to be able to share your passions with them,” Petrova said. “Food was a frustrating thing that I could not share with him. In the back of my mind, I was thinking ’It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine.’ We did a lot of workarounds. There’s certain restaurants we were able to go to, we mostly cooked at home. It wasn’t something where I was thinking about starting a food company after I first met him. It was a lot of years of frustration.”
Wolfe Cravings operates out of the Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough. She said the professional guidance and resources she has received from the facility has been invaluable. She learned a lot about how to gain access to venues to sell her products, and also about how to package her desserts. She recently set up at the Eno River Farmers’ Market. She also set up at a market for gluten-free products. Her tiramisu sold out at both, and in less than an hour at one.
For now, Wolfe Cravings offers two items: tiramisu and ice cream sandwiches.
“Every product and every decision that I make, I really want to validate it with my users,” Petrova said. “One of the things that I’ve encountered a lot is that gluten-free is one allergy space, but there’s so many other allergens that people come to me and ask, ‘do you have this or that?’ I foresee that, potentially another product can be catered to feedback that I’ve received. I don’t really have anything off the top of my head right now. I just want to validate before I make the launch. My products are not just something that I want; it’s something the users wanted, and asked for.”
Petrova said her future goals for Wolfe Cravings is to have her products available in grocery stores. Noting the lack of availability of specialty foods for people with specific food and ingredient allergies, she said she’s aware of the planning that can go into outings or trips.
“The ultimate vision is I would like to be in a grocery store so I can help mitigate some of those issues and make it a little bit easier for someone with a gluten allergy to enjoy the things that they really want, and access easily,” Petrova said. “So, I’d like to be in a grocery store, but right now I’m at farmers markets.”
You can follow Wolfe Cravings on Instagram @wolfe_cravings.