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Meet Christina Sanini of Pavona Dolci

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christina Sanini.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Christina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2005, I began my career as a web and graphic designer in San Diego, CA. As I advanced into my 15+ year career in the technology industry, I began to yearn for a change. I kept coming back to food/cooking. Food, specifically, eating and cooking, was always a passion of mine. I grew up watching my Catholic Italian nonnie and my Catholic Mexican grandmother cooking the most magically delicious meals.

In 2013, my sister suggested I try eating gluten free because it was helping her feel better. We both had digestive problems almost every time we ate food. I thought why not and committed to abstaining from wheat for 30 days. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! After 30 days my stomach no longer ached. My skin cleared up. I had more energy. I was sleeping better. I had no idea eating wheat on a daily basis was dramatically impacting my lifestyle.

I began making a stronger commitment to eliminate wheat from my diet. It was very very challenging. I still struggle with it. As I looked at the grocery stores shelves, there were several gluten free options available for all the foods I loved. Pasta, bread, pizza dough, cookies, cakes, sauces, etc. As I purchased and tried them I was seriously disappointed. 95% of the products tasted like sand or lacked the texture and flavor I was used to.

Since I enjoyed cooking in my free time, I went to work on making my own gluten free breads, pasta, cookies, and cakes. After lots and lots of trial and error, I was making yummy gluten free breads, pastas, and desserts. They were so good, my friends kept saying “These are gluten free? You should sell these.”

In December of 2014, I sold my first Pavona Almond Cake to Kettle & Stone in Mission Hills. I continued to work at my tech job full time and baking part time. As my Pavona Almond Cake grew more and more popular, I knew I was onto something big. I began experimenting with other Italian and Mexican inspired flavors. I quickly added Pavona Pistachio Cake which has become my #1 seller. I began searching for other cafes in the Uptown area who would get how special and game changing the Pavona Cakes are. Within 3 years, Pavona Cakes can be found at 9 local cafes and coffee roasters in San Diego.

As the Pavona Cakes caught fire, I added white sandwich loaf bread. In 2017, a multigrain loaf and holiday cookies were added. In 2108, we will be moving into a larger kitchen to increase production and begin packaging and shipping Pavona Cakes, bread and cookies. We also plan to introduce gluten free donuts this summer. As of now, we do not have a retail location but Kettle & Stone carries our full Pavona Cake menu. Customers can also find our Pavona Cakes at the other locations we sell to:

• Meraki Cafe in University Heights
• Hawthorn Coffee in Normal Heights
• Grants Marketplace in South Park
• Achilles Coffee Roaster in Downtown (2 locations)
• Kettle & Stone in Mission Hills
• Royal Food Mart in Hillcrest
• Cafe Mingei in Balboa Park
• The Living Room in Point Loma

I am grateful to have found a new career doing something I love. In 2016 I officially left the tech industry to dedicate my full attention to Pavona Dolci. I love making food people with food sensitivities can enjoy. I know first hand what it is like to be faced with living without something yummy. For me, I thought the world was ending but now I know it is possible to create super yummy wheat free food. I also have a sub menu for people who cannot eat dairy, eggs, nuts or processed sugar.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
No, it has not been a smooth road. I spent hours, days and weeks combing through books and internet research on gluten-free and paleo diets. I walked the isles of grocery stores comparing ingredients and prices. I made countless terrible breads, pastas and desserts. I started taking copious notes like a scientist to really hone in my recipes. I ditched measuring by volume and started measuring by weight. What a difference that made. Once I started weighing ingredients I was able to crack the code on substitutions for recipes. I also educated myself on other modified diets such as paleo. I wanted to grasp what other people were struggling with giving up certain foods to be healthy. Not just to lose weight but to be healthy from the inside out.

I asked my friends and family to blind taste test countless desserts. Asking very specific questions to understand the texture and flavors they were experiencing. If anyone said, “I like it” or “It’s good!” I’d ask why is it good. How is it good. With so many different preferences out there, I wanted the Pavona Cakes to hit the sweet spot for the many different types of people out there.

I also had challenges selling the cakes at slices. At first, I was selling a 10″ round cake. At first, it was selling but slowly sales declined. I started observing the types of food items customers were buying. 90% of the time, they were taking the food times to-go. I decided to ditch the cakes slices and make mini Bundt cakes instead. Sales picked up again and customers were thrilled to have a bite size cake to-go.

I’ve also had challenges sourcing ingredients. My recipes are very specific and I’ve had to research how to source my ingredients for a good price without compromising flavor and presentation. I’ve made many phone calls, conducted hours of research to find the best price for the best quality. While it isn’t the most efficient, I try to source all my ingredients directly from the source.

Pavona Dolci – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Pavona Dolci is a gluten-free and paleo bakery in San Diego, CA. We bake and sell gluten-free Pavona Cakes, cookies and bread. Our kitchen is 100% gluten-free. No cross contamination. Our equipment does come in contact with nuts. Our most popular dessert is Pavona Pistachio Cake. We have a summer and holiday seasonal menu.

We are most proud of our baked goods not tasting like they are gluten free. Every single person who tries out baked goods say, “This is gluten free? Wow. It is so moist and delicious.” Seriously. Every-single-time.

We are changing the perception that if you eat gluten free you have to lower your food standards. Our menu doesn’t compromise the texture and flavor of food. We want every single person who tries a Pavona Cake to love them – even if they aren’t gluten-free. Our menu is handcrafted to be unique using the Italian and Mexican influence. This is what sets us apart from other bakeries.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment of my career has been making my first sale. I told myself, after all the research and test kitchen, if I sold 1 cake – I would be proud. 1 cake meant I followed through, did my best and put myself out there. 3 years later here I am, creating a unique menu and looking to the future of packaging and shipping.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Christina Sanini

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