Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2018
Written by Gail Collins
Women have an innate ability to juggle multiple tasks. Whether it’s prepping dinner with a baby on a hip or making a business call from the soccer practice sidelines, the balls stay mostly in the air. Perhaps, that is why women are natural entrepreneurs, where owners need to manage all facets of a business.
Diving into business is as earnest a commitment as caring for those we love. It also affords the same combination of challenges and rewards. Channeling realistic fear into motivation, expectations into short and long term goals and family support into a community network is a women’s typical to-do list, and it becomes profitable as a business venture. Confidence and competence are gained in the process.
“As a mother, I’m comfortable wearing many hats,” said Wendy Kuek, owner of Cedar House Coffee Shop in Flagstaff. She enjoys the stimulation her family business brings.
Kuek has lived and worked throughout the world from her native Asia to England and the U.S. “Each move built experience, cultural education and opportunities,” she said. And when the family moved to Flagstaff in 2016, the home educator and architect wanted to build community.
“In each locale, we extended ourselves, so the coffee shop is another example of that.”
Growing up in Singapore, food is a significant part of large, family events. Inspired later by Britain’s foodie networks, Wendy and her husband acted as bakers and cooks, aiming to recreate cuisine from their travels. Having a child with health concerns, it also was important to Kuek to make clean, quality food with known sources. She found Flagstaff is well suited for that despite its small town size.
“Food is nourishment and medicine in Asia,” Kuek said, “and Grandma would always ask, ‘What are you eating?’”
If one lingers over the pastry counter at Cedar House, you could be forgiven if wholesome thoughts don’t come to mind first. The scones, Danish pastries and fruit turnovers baked in Kuek’s home kitchen have been honed and tested with superior ingredients. She would like to incorporate more European pastries into the menu, like mince pies in season, but Kuek balances tempting customers with satisfying their expectations. Little by little, the menu expands.
The scones are moist with sour cream, and the buttery crumble—shot through with mixed berries, chocolate or more—melts on the tongue, especially when warmed, but they are not overtly sweet. Order a caramel macchiato for that added rush during a decadent afternoon break. The Danishes are generous with fruit and honeyed syrup, nestled in flaky crust.
Monthly drink specials feature flavored lattes and mochas, such as white chocolate raspberry or dark chocolate cherry. Coffee beans hail from local roaster It’s About Coffee. Cedar House is a community shop tapping into other local businesses. Quiches and light lunch items come from Brandy’s, breakfast burritos from Artisan’s Kitchen and sandwiches from Eat and Run Cafe. Artisan wares—embroidered clutches and pillows, signs, jewelry, aromatherapy goods, books, art and ceramics—stock display shelves for a bit of gift shopping between espresso shots.
“It’s about local supporting local,” Kuek said.
Cedar House is certainly a supportive situation. Kuek’s daughters, Lauren and Bethan, work the shop alongside Caitlin Moran, who managed the coffee shop for the previous owner. The shop’s eclectic mix of antiques and kitsch with dark wood presents a timeless feel while the stacked stone fireplace keeps it cozy. Touches of the Kueks’ lives abroad are evident in the books, art, and of course, tasty goods. The suburban vibe is about gathering—for catching up with family and friends. Valley residents and travelers venture in as do neighbors. Keuk said the customers represent “a true slice of life.”
It was a steep learning curve for Kuek to navigate the legalities and red tape of business ownership in the U.S. Still, managing and running a retail shop, she found, is very much like being a mom—scheduling, prioritizing and modeling behavior.
“Cedar House is for gathering and building connections,” she said. “It’s heartwarming and more than a business; we’re affecting lives.” NAMLM
Cedar House Coffee Shop is at 2009 E. Cedar Ave. in Flagstaff. www.facebook.com/CedarHouseCoffee