Building Community through their Craft: A Conversation with Cedar Coffee Roasters

Building Community through their Craft: A Conversation with Cedar Coffee Roasters

Posted by Luke Pedersen on

Meet Winston Thomas and Leigh Wentzel: The talented duo behind Cedar Coffee Roasters.

Founded in 2021, Cedar is on a mission to make speciality coffee more accessible to a diverse audience within South Africa and beyond. With almost two decades of combined experience, Winston and Leigh have managed to carve out a unique lane within the coffee industry.

From roles as baristas and café managers to honing their craft as roasters, expert trainers and client managers, at the heart of their career journeys has been a drive to see more people drink better coffee.

They are also adamant about fostering connections and providing opportunities for others to succeed in the industry.

Join us as we discuss the origins of Cedar, what keeps them motivated and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. They also share their vision for the brand’s future growth within the local coffee scene and why it’s important for them to build a vibrant and inclusive community around a love for coffee.


How it all started
The two had never actually worked together before starting Cedar but had known of each other since they started working in coffee at the same time.



“Though we ventured out into different avenues within coffee, we respected each other’s craft and recognised that we had the same values. We had always said that if something happened one day and we had our own company that we’d want to work with each other” shared Leigh.

The opportunity finally came when they caught the attention of their now business partner during one of his visits to Cape Town.

“He didn’t meet us knowing that he wanted to work with us. He was just interested in connecting with a few people in the Cape Town coffee scene. When he left, he said you and Leigh are two interesting guys, have you ever thought about doing something together? You should let me know” shared Winston as he recounted the story of how they were nudged into doing business together.

“We didn’t know him well but he brought us together and helped us turn an idea into reality. I don’t think we would’ve gotten to the point of deciding to open up our own roastery” he added.

They mulled the offer over during a camping trip with their wives in December 2020. Warmed by the campfire and surrounded by the exciting air of new beginnings on New Year’s Eve, they decided to take the plunge. After taking some time to work on their business plan and sift through all the important paperwork, Cedar officially launched in September 2021.


Stronger together

Finding a business partner you are aligned with and nurturing trust within the partnership can be a difficult feat. When asked what it’s been like running Cedar together, Leigh acknowledged the challenge of navigating different personalities that comes with any working relationship. However, the journey is made smoother by knowing they have a foundation of shared values to lean on and in recognising that they wouldn’t be as far as they are today if they had done things solo. “We firm up each other’s weaknesses and we complement each other quite well” he added.

Winston echoed this sentiment sharing that Cedar is made stronger through the unique skills they both bring to the business. “Though there are disagreements that come up, there are more benefits to working together – it’s just a matter of trying to work around the challenges so we can take Cedar where we want to take it” said Winston.



Doing things their own way

Their wealth of knowledge from years of working in the industry truly does set the brand apart.

“You don’t often find a new coffee business started by people who actually worked in the field. Coffee brands are usually born out of an interest in the craft but we were working in the industry for 8 years before we started the business” mentioned Winston.

Their background in coffee not only allows them to pour inside expertise into Cedar but it makes them more relatable. The diversity of their collective experience means they can relate to customers, clients who are starting or have existing businesses as well as the barista working behind the bar which has been a big advantage for them.

Another factor that differentiates Cedar is that they have deviated from the common path followed when starting a coffee roastery in South Africa.



Cedar doesn’t have their own coffee roasting machine or a coffee shop. Instead, they use someone else’s roaster and have a dynamic space (proudly furnished with a few Pedersen + Lennard items) that allows them to package and dispatch orders, run workshops, host events and manage their day-to-day business admin.

A business decision like not having their own roaster has its challenges. This includes being on someone else’s schedule and not always having the flexibility to work around load shedding. However, it has ultimately kept things exciting and is something Winston and Leigh see the local roasting scene embracing more.

“We suspect that the concept of co-roasting spaces, which is very common in the US, Europe and Australia, where there’s a shared roaster that anyone can pay to use will eventually start happening here” proposed Winston.

It’s important for Cedar to be forthcoming about how they do things or where they buy their coffee, especially with other roasters who started around the same time as them.



“We’re hoping that being transparent about how we use someone else’s roaster opens up dialogue and encourages more roasters to share spaces and ideas. For us, the more people who drink coffee the better. As long as the market grows we can grow along with it” expressed Winston.

Reflecting on their long-term goals for Cedar as the brand grows, Winston and Leigh shared that they would love to strengthen their relationships with the farmers they source from and buy more African coffee. Acknowledging the irony of “how the coffee we have the least access to is from our neighbours”, Winston explained that the best African coffees usually get bought by European and US green companies, exported out of Africa and local roasters have to pay the same price as them with the added cost of shipping it back.

“Farmers or exporting companies need to sell a container of their beans and at the size Cedar is at now, we would realistically only buy a couple of bags” he added.

Accepting that they don’t yet have the buying power to purchase good quality African coffees is difficult. Still, Winston and Leigh are hopeful that with time they will grow to a point or be able to work collectively with other roasters to source more coffee from the continent.


On what keeps them going

Navigating barriers within the coffee supply chain is just one example of the unique set of challenges they have to navigate as business owners. When asked what motivates them through the difficult moments, the pair shared that it is their love of coffee and the people they get to work with that drives them.

“We get paid to taste different coffees, choose one we like, roast it in the best way, taste it again and then sell it while working with clients who happen to do a lot of fun things like bagels, cycling, meat, furniture and roosterkoek” proudly shared Winston.


Building community and making coffee accessible

Both Winston and Leigh agreed that the part they miss most about life before Cedar is working behind the bar with fellow colleagues and serving customers. It’s no surprise then that they’ve made it a priority to host popups and participate in events that allow them to connect with their community.

“Our customers feel valued, Cedar’s community gets to experience us behind a bar by coming to these pop-ups and we get to serve a simple drink and make someone’s day” shared Winston.



They both admitted that coffee can be very niche and feel quite exclusive. "We want to create an open coffee club that everyone can join and make sure that we have something for everyone" added Leigh. Their decaf offering and accessible blends are a great example of how they are intentional about inclusivity. “In the beginning when we were brainstorming, we said to ourselves that we want to sell coffee that our grandmothers would be happy to drink but that the barista judge at some of the competitions we enter can enjoy and admire as well” revealed Leigh.

He further acknowledged that their backgrounds play a big role in why it’s important for them to reach a wide audience and build an inclusive community of coffee lovers.

“Our families are not the average speciality coffee drinkers. They still haven't made the transition so we’ve learned that meeting people where they are is the most important thing” he explained.

Recognising the humble beginnings of their own relationships with coffee, Winston revealed that his favourite drink used to be a chocolate mocha with 3 sugars while Leigh’s go-to was a cup of instant coffee with 3 sugars too. Knowing that their transformation into connoisseurs who enjoy filtered, black coffee was a gradual shift, they feel passionate about curating a safe space for customers to explore without being shut down.


Pot Stand in brass and oak by Pedersen + Lennard


“We both have experiences with customers who used to drink coffee with sugar, who transitioned to no sugar, then black, then to pour overs which is amazing to see” shared Winston.


Lessons from the craft

One of our favourite Cedar quotes is “Coffee is more than a hobby but a way of life”. So, in honour of these wise words, we had to find out what the biggest life lesson the craft has taught them is.

For Leigh it’s working hard, staying patient and seizing opportunities when they are presented to you. “I always tell colleagues who find themselves getting impatient with their career journeys to just keep doing what they are doing. I worked in coffee for so long and Cedar is never something I imagined happening. I believe everyone will get an opportunity in life so it’s about going for it and not having any regrets when it comes your way” he shared.

The biggest lesson Winston has gleaned is that change is inevitable so you’ve got to adapt and think of your next move to keep the ball rolling when those shifts come.

“Things are always changing in coffee and we should be able to embrace change in life the same way. It can be quite a daunting thing as a business owner because it’s your livelihood but it helps to hold onto the perspective that coffee is fun because things are always changing”.


Looking forward

Based on all they’ve achieved so far, it's hard to believe that Cedar only turned 2 years old in December 2023. A brief list of their achievements include being awarded Best New Roaster in South Africa, forming partnerships with much-loved local cafes and brands outside the industry, collaborating with 4 Weeks on coffee pods, launching their Cedar Goods merch as well as successfully hosting workshops, training sessions and cupping experiences. This year has also seen them move into a bigger space to intentionally make room for growth.



Flank Shelving System - 5 Tier by Pedersen + Lennard


At the end of the day, whether it’s through advising a customer, training baristas or making a key supplier connection, helping others is the core way Cedar measures success and where they find the most fulfilment.

When asked what lies ahead, they most of the exciting collaborations Cedar is part of or the events they host happen very organically. “We don’t plan very far in advance. Exciting opportunities have a way of finding us and many collaborations are very much on the fly” revealed Winston.

“Who knows what we’ll do next or what lies on the horizon? We’re just working on being recognised globally as a leading African coffee roastery. Getting our product beyond borders has its challenges but would lead to more growth which means we can employ more people and make a difference to farmers by buying more coffee from them. Paying it forward is the main goal for us”.


Follow Cedar and shop their range of speciality coffee:


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