OUR BREWMISTRESS / FOUNDER
Theonista began as a craving, not as a business plan.
This particular craving came from my gut. Really—my actual gut thrived on kombucha; I got hooked on the stuff in my mid-20s back in Seattle when, despite my plant-based, public health professional, yoga-fueled lifestyle, I was seriously struggling with digestive distress, poor stress management, and chronic immune system issues. I initially moved to Cape Town based on the other kind of gut feeling–-the one that serves as the best compass of all time if you can figure out where it’s pointing you.
That was back in 2011. Back then, not only was there hardly any kombucha to be found, it proved completely impossible to find someone brewing it at home. I asked employees and customers in every health shop I found for months. Seriously, I did. Like a crazy person. (I’d soon find out that once I had some to offer, it would be equally difficult to convince health shops to stock kombucha due to historically low success and low popularity of the versions that came before. But that’s getting ahead of myself.)
After running into countless dead ends, I eventually purchased a SCOBY from Seattle and had it mailed to a friend in New York who was traveling to Cape Town. Once it landed, I immediately started brewing and experimenting. In my enthusiasm during that period, I’d mentioned my homebrewing ambitions to a friend here. Her name was Maggie, and by coincidence she’d also lived in Seattle once and loved all things fermented. Maggie worked for Lyndall, the mastermind behind then-newcomer, now beloved institution Clarke’s, and Lyndall decided to give this kombucha thing a go (a couple years later Clarke’s was also the first in South Africa to offer kombucha on tap, and their sister establishment Hail Pizza is the first to offer customers a bulk filling option on tap).
Suddenly I had a customer, which technically meant I had a business. To be honest, it took me a couple years, a few more products, and dozens more customers to realize Theonista was more than a side project and definitely more than a response to a craving.
And you think cravings are powerful? Try intention. Once I committed to really owning, driving, shaping, and creating Theonista, everything shifted. The natural momentum I’d built up from developing products from a sheer passion for them, without cutting any corners when it came to ingredients or process, gained force when I started bringing on staff and slowly building up from a home kitchen to the funky Woodstock microbrewery we operate from today.
Kombucha is still the heart of our business, but we also make a bunch of other products that, for whatever reason, all light me up and in some way are directly inspired by nature and by my life in and around Cape Town.
My business has grown a lot but in many ways it is still very much the same as it was at the start. We make everything in small batches, overwhelmingly use people over machines, rely on whole ingredients rather than artificial anything, cherish organic and indigenous botanicals, are just as committed as ever to our social and ecological ethics, and are totally obsessed with creating the very best things we can.
In the early days I did all the brewing and bottling myself—as well as the deliveries (by bicycle!) and the accounting (which admittedly simply meant storing cash in a glass jar for over a year—I still have that jar actually).
We’re definitely not a one-woman show anymore, and I’m extremely grateful for and proud of our amazing team. As much as the ingredients, the quality of people that make Theonista are reflected in the quality of our products.
We’re also proud to be an active part of a shifting food culture. Luckily for many artisan producers such as ourselves, consumer preferences continue to trend towards healthy choices that are more sustainable both for human, animal, and environmental health—even though this is rarely the easiest or most affordable choice to make.
I often joke that I must specialize in “the path of most resistance,” such as in trying to convince an understandably skeptical South African consumer base that kombucha was worth trying but, jokes aside, all the effort has been completely worth it.
These days I trust my gut more than ever, and it’s my sincere hope that our products nourish you and support your lifestyle so that you can do the same.
Follow your gut,