Nana Creme isn’t named after your grandma. It’s a nod to its central ingredient—the ingredient that keeps it non-dairy and top-eight allergen free (that’s gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts and tree nuts, for those of you counting at home). Yes, Nana Creme is named after bananas, an ingredient, founder and creator Regina Klafeta says, that makes her ice creme almost the exact consistency of ice cream.
Klafeta started the company after her niece was diagnosed with a nut allergy (“kids hate to feel left out, especially at dessert time,” she explained in an e-mail interview). Today, Nana Creme is helping curb dessert envy across the greater Chicagoland area, with availability in the likes of Whole Foods and Mariano’s. We talked to Klafeta about what she’s learned in the 10 months since starting Nana Creme, how she honed her ice cream making skills and which ice cream flavor she’ll opt for every time.
Why did you choose Chicago?
Starting a small business in Chicago has been a great experience. Every grocery store has been so supportive of my product. One of the greatest parts of selling a food product in Chicago is that customers love to support Chicago vendors. Also, there are so many events and festivals yearly in Chicago, which provide a great avenue to market a new brand. There’s nothing better than handing out samples in a densely populated area to get the word out!
We know you were inspired to start Nana Creme after your niece Caroline was diagnosed with a nut allergy. But just how did you get into ice cream making?
I always had a passion for baking and pastry, and I attended culinary school at College of Dupage in Glen Ellyn. As I was rolling pounds of butter into croissants, I had an “a-ha!” moment! I never realized how unhealthy traditional desserts were until I was actually making them. I decided to switch my degree to nutrition and dietetics, and then transferred to Northern Illinois University to do so. The summer before my last semester, my niece had her first reaction and I created Nana Creme. So during my first week, of my last semester of college, I decided to drop out and start making ice cream!
If you could go back in time before you became involved in running the business and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
If I could go back in time and share one piece of advice with myself, it would be to hire! My biggest mistake was that I waited until I needed employees before I hired them. I am still making orders to order, and I have not had time to catch up because of this mistake. This has put limitations on my production because without employees, there is no ice cream!
What are your next steps?
Nana Creme has many exciting things planned for the future. A new banana-free flavor is debuting in the next month. It is still free of the top eight allergens, as well as free of gum, but it is thickened with dates instead of bananas. Ice cream sandwiches will be debuting in 2016. After this, more awesome flavors will be introduced, plus a line of top-eight-allergen–free ice cream toppings.
We want to be in the know! Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
My sister Liz Klafeta created BANGTEL, where she designs stylistic living spaces that feature contemporary art and custom furniture that are all available for purchase. Each space also contains mini bars stocked with wares from local entrepreneurs such as Nana Creme and sustainable candles made by Wax+Bone. Her design aspirations stem from 13 years as Chicago’s most sought after wardrobe and prop stylist, with clients such as HGTV, Coca-Cola and CB2. I’ve also heard she’s up to host her own design show soon!
All right, we have to ask. What’s your favorite flavor?
My favorite flavor is Sugar Cookie. Dairy-, gluten- and egg-free sugar cookies that taste just as crunchy and sugary as they should!
Q&As are edited for clarity and length.