When you take a bite of Nettie’s Naturally tiramisu, you’ll feel tender layers of lady fingers sandwiched between lightly sweetened mascarpone gently give under pressure. You won’t find soggy cake swimming in espresso and liqueur — just a featherweight dessert with a faint but lingering aftertaste of orange and lemon.
You won’t find any gluten or cane sugar either — but you won’t miss it. Owner Lynnette Potgieter uses a blend of organic, gluten-free flours and coconut sugar to make her desserts, many of which are vegan as well. But the underlying goal is to keep the glycemic load as low as possible without sacrificing taste.
“We’ve had a hard time coming up with a tag line,” she says. “I want to say, ‘You’ve just got to eat it.’”
Growing up in South Africa, Potgieter had dessert after dinner every night. But it came with certain risks. Diabetes runs in the family. Her grandmother died of the disease when she was in her 50s, her father now has it, and Potgieter herself has been diagnosed with insulin resistance.
“I feel like there’s a stigma attached to diabetes,” Potgieter says. “People feel comfortable walking into a restaurant and saying they’re celiac or gluten-intolerant, but not if they’re diabetic. Chefs say people never ask for [a diabetes-friendly meal].”
She says there are lots of people out there like her who want something that’s enticing as well as safe for them to eat.
Potgieter studied nutritional medicine in Australia but wasn’t interested in starting a practice. Instead, when she came to Richmond, she started baking. She began Nettie’s Naturally in 2012 and soon, her organic goods began showing up in refrigerated cases in Whole Foods and Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market. She also makes desserts for the Daily Kitchen & Bar and coffee shops across town. Lately, she’s expanded her line to include nondessert items such as raw vegan cashew yogurt and raw almond milk.
In the next few weeks, Potgieter will open a small coffee shop, Nettie’s Naturally Café and Bakery, at 100 W. Clay St. in Jackson Ward. The small, bright white-and-green space has room for a couple of tables and a counter across the front windows, along with the espresso machine and bakery case. It’s one last step in settling in to her new city.
“Food plays a big role in the way I feel,” she says. “But I didn’t want to take the fun out of it.”