Ted Dennard has loved bees and honey since he was a teenager, but even decades after he embraced the art of beekeeping, the industrious insects still manage to surprise him.
Bees can count. They can recognize faces. They have a unique communication system with flowers so they don't lose time searching for pollen.
Those are just a few facts about bees that Dennard, founder and head beekeeper of Savannah Bee Company, shares in conversation. With the opening of a new concept store in Atlanta's Westside Provisions District , Dennard hopes to spread the gospel of bees directly to consumers.
Here's Dennard's recent Ted Talk about bees and honey:
The honey industry has grown quite a bit since Dennard formally launched his company in 2002. In 2016, Americans consumed more honey than ever, but only 29 percent of it came from the U.S. Georgia has ranked among the top 10 honey producing states in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016 according to data from Department Of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Annual Honey Report.
While Dennard notes how far the local industry as come -- with due credit given to Savannah Bee Company -- he believes it is time to take things up a notch. "In the beginning, we did what we could to. My goal was always to elevate honey," said Dennard, who began selling his tupelo honey in 1999 at a friend's store.
The business evolved into Savannah Bee Company which has grown to include a full range of products from the signature varieties of raw honey to a growing collection of personal care products. The Westside Provisions District location is the ninth branded store and one of the first to feature the company's new retail concept.
While the earlier stores were more rustic, the Atlanta location (and the recently opened store in Westport, Conn.) offers the same education and experiences in a more refined setting. Instead of "barnyard chic" the new boutiques are more "modern farmhouse," said Rob Kemp, Senior Director of Retail Operation and Store Design.
Elements such as bee smokers, renderings of hives and the menu behind the Honey Bar made of brown craft paper are reminiscent of a general store, but presented in an artful way. A display featuring the artisanal honey is lit from within to give the honey a golden glow. With 3,000 square feet of space, the Atlanta store is the largest to-date offering customers access to the full range of Savannah Bee Company products.
The store is designed to be an immersive experience in the secret life of bees starting with the Honey Bar. Guests are treated to samples of the artisanal honeys served on an eco-friendly spoon.
Currently on tap are the popular Tupelo and deeply flavorful Sourwood, as well as the lighter Acacia and the "Georgia in a jar" Wildflower. The newly bottled Palmetto has similar healing powers as manuka honey but tastes much better while Black Sage is a hard-to-get variety that is back on the menu after a six-year absence. Super sweet Orange Blossom is another favorite while Spanish-born Lavender and Rosemary offer a more subtle sweetness.
Staffers are on hand to explain the distinct elements of each artisanal honey as well as offer samples of the whipped honeys and honeys designated for everyday use such as with tea, with cheese and for the grill.
At the rear of the store is the Mead Bar, a place to experience the ancient beverage that has been a fast growing segment of the alcoholic beverage industry over the past five years. Mead is fermented honey made with water, honey and yeast. Some meads include fruit additions for flavor variation. At Savannah Bee Company's Mead Bar, $7 gets five 2-oz pours of various meads ranging from still to sparkling and sweet to semi-sweet and Savannah Bee private label meads.
Throughout the store, other Savannah Bee Company products are on display including raw honeycomb, a source of healing beeswax that is best served up with fruits or cheese as an appetizer or dessert and bee-inspired gifts like books about bees, bee themed jewelry, candles and more.
The Health and Beauty section features an expanded line of personal care products for body such as a body butter made with skin-softening royal jelly in three scents, a body wash and body lotion, a heel balm that banishes dry skin on feet and moisturizing wipes for on-the-go use.
Hand creams, a salve, and a range of lip balms and lip tints also feature hive ingredients such as propolis, beeswax, royal jelly, and honey as do the shampoos and conditioners, face cleanser, face treatment and mask.
Because the mission of Savannah Bee Company is to educate everyone, the store also has an area designed for kids, complete with a walk-in beehive and a video rendering of life inside the hive. The area features gifts for children and highlights the Bee Cause Project, a four-year-old effort to place beehives in schools with the goal of engaging and inspiring students to become the next generation of bee ambassadors.
Savannah Bee Company Grand Opening
Saturday, July 29, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Westside Provisions District, 1100 Howell Mill Road NW, Suite A01, Atlanta