I sit down to (yet another) sensational cup of coffee with Jaco de Witt and business partner and MasterChef SA 2013 runner-up Leandri van der Wat after a relatively chaotic morning of shooting, dodging customers, skirting around coffee grinders and hilariously positioning the two of them to create the perfect portrait. The morning is only halfway done and already we’re all three cappuccinos down. After a lengthy conversation about speculoos (a Dutch nutbutter with a flavour reminiscent of the Nuttikrust biscuit) and her sister Seline’s bizarre consumption habits (let’s just say that 800g of speculoos saw its demise in only one week, using nothing but a ‘spork’), Leandri and Jaco fill me in on what their company, Roast Re:Public, is all about, what it means to them and why they have made coffee such a massive part of their lives.
January 2014 saw the birth of what is now becoming one of the pioneering coffee brands in Johannesburg – Roast Re:Public. With the idea of developing and sharing deliciously roasted coffee beans (to create a secret in-house blend, sourced from Tanzania, Indonesia and Guatemala), there was also the desire to use the profits to do something good – “a social drive to help a cause beyond where we normally reach,” as Jaco puts it. The business is now run by Jaco and Leandri, although, as Leandri says, “Jaco has been the champion in growing the business to what it is today.” Having just completed her Masters in chemistry from the University of Pretoria, Leandri left the running of the business to Jaco, and the two now move from strength to strength. Roast Re:Public opened its first shop in Greenside, in partnership with Trio Café but, with this, grew their desire to have their own little hub that was solely Roast Re:Public – and, so, the new store in Rosebank was founded in conjunction with Standard Bank. “We realised that our biggest challenge when roasting great tasting coffee was that people weren’t able to find us,” says Jaco. After giving up the search (after many tireless months of hunting), the Greenside partnership came to their attention in January 2014. Then, one month ago, the Rosebank space “just fell in to our laps. It was only 23 days from the time we were offered the chance to open up in this space to the launch date!” exclaims Jaco.
The vision of the space is this: a hub of entrepreneurial growth and innovation. Much like the coffee houses in Turkey were used as meeting points for the public discourse of politics and society in the late 1800s, Roast Re:Public is a place for conversation and creativity – as can be seen by the whiteboard walls used for public demonstrations, and the tables covered in writing paper for any in-the-moment, inspired thoughts. There are even little stars on the menu next to the items that could be considered ‘brain food’ to fuel the body and the mind. Roast Re:Public has been incubated into this idea with Standard Bank, wanting to integrate and introduce people from all walks of life, and what better way to do that than over a perfectly roasted, brewed and prepared cup of coffee? I can’t help but pose the obvious question to the duo – why coffee? What made both of them head in this direction? “Well, for both of us, it’s different,” says Leandri. “I started drinking coffee because of my father, so, since the age of nine, I’ve been drinking proper filter coffee. I was taught how to use the filter machine at home and served it to the Bible study group who came to our house every Thursday. Already, it has been a life-long pleasure of mine. It just seemed right that I keep that going.” Jaco’s love for coffee started much like my own – just because! “I simply loved the taste and what it is, and the kind of adventures around it. At my previous place of employment, five of us shared this passion and, every day, one of us would venture out looking for good coffee – and bring it back to the group to chat about it. It became our ritual.” The two took this love and combined it with the idea of using coffee “as a force for good”.
Roast Re:Public is partnered with World Vision International, focusing on a little town in Limpopo called Enable. Fifty per cent of the company’s profits is channelled towards education there. Both Leandri and Jaco have done work with charities before and they share a similar philosophy: “We don’t want to just go and dump something at a place,” says Jaco. “We have taken the time to ask the question of what they truly need, and not what we think they need.” And, so, the focus has moved to intervention classes – these work to ensure that no child is educationally left behind after they miss a few days, weeks or months of school. Intervention classes enable each child to move through the schooling system without lagging behind. “It is an intensive and expensive process, something that most government schools can’t afford.” Leandri adds, “We are focusing on literacy and numeracy – this is where we are channelling our financial support.” Our interview soon mellows to easy conversation and the two educate me about the world of coffee. The banter between Jaco and Leandri is infectious, laughing happily at the journey they have been travelling together, with much credit going to the inclusion of others (Jaco’s wife, Michelle, has been along for the entire ride, and Seline has always been a support whenever needed). There is no doubt we will be seeing even more expansion from Roast Re:Public, with a not-so-secret roaster being bought in from America, public cupping and roasting classes in the pipeline and, undoubtedly, a few more stores to pop up in Johannesburg. Find out more about them and their cause, #CoffeeWithAConscience, and offer your support – all you have to do is buy yourself a delicious bag of beans and already you will be making a difference.
116 Greenway Road, Greenside, 011-486-3631; 5 Cradock Avenue, Rosebank, 082 515 6466; roastrepublic.wordpress.com