In the low-fat, no-fat generation of the nervous '90s, everybody wants his or her cake but is too scared to eat it.

But now a former dishwasher and busboy from Caldwell, Idaho has quietly made a splash with decadant desserts that have Hollywood buzzing.

"We are teaching people to enjoy food on a holistic level," said Mani Niall, who runs four coffee house-style bakeries in the Los Angeles area. "We use whole grains, natural sweeteners and less processing. But we are not trying to be an oat bran bar."

Indeed, the Mani's Bakery outlets in West Hollywood, Studio City, Santa Monica and the flagship on Fairfax Boulevard near the Farmer's Market are jammed with such delicate desserts as apple blueberry pie, carrot raisin cake, tiramisu, chocolate raspberry fortress cake, chocolate truffles, banana cranberry crunch cake and one of their biggest sellers, the chocolate cream heart-shaped tart. Many of the desserts are low on fat or have no fat added, but none are non-fat. "No added fat means almost fat-free, and low-fat means below 30 percent of the calories from fat," said Mani (pronounced Mon-ee).

Unlike many bakeries, Mani and his staff make everything from scratch, all at the Fairfax Boulevard shop.

"We are hands on," he said. "If you go to a typical bakery, they don't know or care what they put into their baked goods."

The result of his attention to detail has made Mani's a hangout for Hollywood stars like Roseanne, Laura Dern, k.d. lang, Faye Dunaway, Fran Dresher and such rockers as Aerosmith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When Barbra Streisand wanted to rendezvous with her ex-beau Richard Baskin, she met him at Mani's on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

Many, like actress Marilu Henner, say they like Mani's for its low-fat baked goods. "It all tastes good and they observe all the stringent health principles I ascribe to," she said.

Mani caters to Hollywood, literally providing baked goods for such TV shows as "The Nanny," "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Mad About You."

"They've managed to keep the taste while still being sugarless and mostly low-fat," said Bill Nuzzo, who runs the crafts services department for the "Seinfeld" show produced in Studio City. "People seem to want that these days."

Television personality Ed McMahon, who recommended that Mani cater his new sitcom, "Tom," said he became a devotee several years ago after his health-conscious wife introduced him to Mani's desserts.


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