“I have an affinity for chocolate.”
When you meet Nichole Dandrea that’s clear right up front. Chocolate-colored clothes. A chocolate-filled business with a name that’s a combination of hers and that of Bella, her milk chocolate-colored dog.
Dandrea is a registered dietitian, yoga instructor and founder of Nicobella Organics, maker of organic vegan dark chocolate truffles and other plant-based treats.
She loves telling people how good dark chocolate is for them. A recent e-blast to customers proclaimed, “Looking for the easiest New Year's resolution ever? We have your answer...eat more dark chocolate!” and went on to say that eating one to one-and-a-half ounces of dark chocolate may help: lower blood pressure, boost good cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, curb sugar cravings and boost your mood, among other benefits.
“I’m a dietitian who loves chocolate, but always wanted a healthier version. When dark chocolate started to get media attention for health benefits, I thought it would be an opportunity to use dark chocolate as a vehicle for other high antioxidant foods.”
So she created recipes using “superfoods” like blueberries, pumpkin and walnuts to make creamy truffles. Coconut oil and coconut milk replace butter and cream in her recipes. “We also use whole foods like pure matcha and fresh ginger. It’s a healthy indulgence that tastes delicious and is good for you.”
Nicobella Organics launched in California in late 2009. Moving to Atlanta three years ago with actor husband Ricky Russert who came for a role in the Cinemax show “Banshee”, she brought the business with her.
Visiting her Atlanta “chocolate factory,” you find yourself at the workshop of Atlanta chocolate confectioner Cacao. The luscious smell of chocolate seems to seep out through the brick warehouse walls. Everyone in the neighborhood must be craving chocolate all the time.
“You need special equipment to make truffles. Our truffles were made in California, now we’re on the lookout for another manufacturer or considering purchasing our own equipment. Cacao makes our Munch products and we do all our packaging and distribution from here.”
What Dandrea loves doing is focusing on the nutritional aspect of her food. “That’s my passion, encouraging people to eat more plant-based food. Chocolate happens to be the vehicle.”
She and her team hand make their POWER Bites, one-half teaspoonful by one-half teaspoonful, tiny little dome by tiny little dome. The POWER Bites complement the truffles by being a nut- and seed-based high-energy snack that is shelf stable. The truffles are a more indulgent treat which should be eaten within four weeks of being made.
Nicobella’s offers five varieties of crunchy Nicobella Munch and old-fashioned salty-sweet Peanut Butter Squares.
“The Munch is whole nuts and 75 percent organic fair trade dark chocolate. It’s a high protein, high fiber snack without additives. There’s very little sugar and that means they’re low glycemic. They make a great midafternoon pick me up. You get the boost from the theobromine in the chocolate and sustained energy from the nuts. And they’re delicious so you still feel like you’re indulging at the same time.”
You can find Nicobella Organics at local events or the Saturday morning Green Market at Piedmont Park and in shops like Virginia-Highland’s Tipple & Rose, Kroger, Whole Foods Markets, Lowe’s Hotel Midtown and Roots Pressed Juices as well as online at nicobellaorganics.com.
“We love animals and that’s why we don’t use any animal ingredients,” says Dandrea. “I wasn’t vegan when I started the company but I am forever grateful that starting a vegan company personally changed my life. I became a vegetarian for health reasons but I became a vegan because I love animals.” The company donates 5 percent of its sales to favorite animal organizations such as Full Circle Farm Sanctuary and The Gentle Barn. And Dandrea volunteers as much time as she can.
“When you’re with these animals and the people who run these organizations you want to give them everything you can. I love chocolate, I love whole foods, but I want to go help with the animals every day. Nicobella Organics has transformed my life and allowed me to explore my passions. It’s been such a gift.”