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Q&A with Matt Penfold of Aroma Café

Co-owners Matt Penfold and Natalie Steer at Aroma Café

Your name, address and age and some background about you:

Matthew Penfold, but everyone knows me a Matt. 37 years old.

I’ve worked in hospitality in some way or another since I was 16, the first role washing up at the local pub near Chichester. My other jobs have included large hotels like the Old Ship in Brighton, to a small 16th Century boutique hotels in the beautiful village of Woburn, Bedfordshire and everything in between. My grandparents ran various cafe’s across the South so I suppose it’s in my blood.

What is your restaurant called, where is it and when was it established?

Aroma Cafe & Kitchen in Keymer near Hassocks, West Sussex. We opened in March 2021.

Tell us about the food you serve

95% of everything we serve is homemade by my business partner Natalie, and we try to use local produce wherever we can. Now that we have been running for a few months we are beginning to get local suppliers on board as well such as The Cheese Man based in Brighton.

We have also partnered with Herbert and Ward who have been roasting and blending the very best coffee (it really is that good!) since 1929 so not only are we confident with our food offering, we are also serving top-notch hot drinks as well.

How many on your team and who are they?

At the core, it’s just myself and Natalie who run the business. Natalie and I met at the locally renowned Jeremy’s Restaurant and Café Elvira around 6 years ago when I was the Restaurant Manager and she was the Café Manager and we became firm friends. Over time we discussed taking on a project together and Aroma is the result of that collaboration. We have a few lovely part-timers including Alicia, Abi and Bethan who do an amazing job looking after our guests.

How did the idea for your business come about?

Aroma itself came about years ago whilst I was at University studying forensic science, but at that time it was a ‘cyber café’ concept called ‘e-volve.’ I still have the logo sketches somewhere! But as time moved on and everyone has a smartphone and a laptop, the concept progressed to a fresh-food business that opened in the evening and had a select menu of classic and modern dishes. I hope one day for the café to have a bar element as well with local gins, great cocktails and some truly special wines.

I’ve always been interested by Art Deco design and so it isn’t much of a surprise to those who know me that the café is based around a modern twist on an art-deco theme and I’m hoping to introduce classic art deco touches as time goes on. I’ve ripped out the previous plastic interior and designed, painted, tiled almost all of the venue to get it the way I wanted it. Turns out Nat is a dab hand with a paintbrush too. As we go along, we’re constantly updating and upgrading and hope to replace the blue and cream awning with our branding colours soon.

How have you coped/adapted during the pandemic?

We had been looking for a suitable site for some time, and had initially looked at, and indeed put in an offer on a small business in Aldershot but due to issues with the process we pulled out.

Shortly after, what is now Aroma became available and it was full-steam ahead. We opened during the pandemic, but as a business who had to plan around all of the conditions of social distancing, masks and everything else that came with operating around Covid in many ways we had a strategic advantage.

Most other business had to adapt, whereas we knew what we could and couldn’t do straight away and had a plan in place from the off. We rearranged the interior and sold everything directly from the counter so that people waited outside and only came into pay. After everything that’s happened in the last 6 months, it seems such a long time ago now.

What would you like to tell people about your business?

Aroma is open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 3.30pm for breakfast which we serve all day, freshly cooked quiches, frittatas and lunchtime dishes, as well as homemade cakes. We also serve a brunch menu on Sunday between 9am and 1pm.

What we’re really excited about is announcing our Friday and Saturday evening menu from Friday the 15th October, we really can’t wait to get started on this. An alcohol license is in the works, but for the first two weeks it’ll be bring your own (we’ll supply the glasses) with a small corkage fee for bottles of wine and beer. Everything that we’re currently doing can be found on our website:, where you can also sign up for our newsletter. We also regularly post on Instagram: @aromakeymer

What are your plans/hopes for the future?

With Christmas fast approaching we are planning to do exclusive use events on a Wednesday and Thursday night for office parties or social gatherings with a set-menu as well as paired wines if people are interested. On a Friday and Saturday night we’ll do a Christmas themed menu, but there will still be other, non-Christmassy options too.

Aroma Café, 97 Keymer Road, Keymer, Hassocks, BN6 8QL


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