Ted Talks…To the Bees

Photography by CHIA CHONG

The Savannah Bee Co. founder reflects on 20 years of sweet success and a new HQ

Photography by CHIA CHONG, Courtesy of SAVANNAH BEE COMPANY

“C’MON GIRLS, WATCH OUT,” murmurs Ted Dennard to the hundreds of honeybees crawling around the hive in the garden outside his office.

As he carefully eases out a wooden frame to reveal a heart-shaped hunk of beeswax, the founder of the Savannah Bee Co. coos to the busy laborers in a conspiratorial whisper: “I see you working hard in here.”

That Dennard speaks directly to the bees seems perfectly natural — after all, he’s had an intimate relationship with bees for more than half his life. Captivated as a teenager by the vital importance these pollinators play in our environment, he first discovered beekeeping thanks to his mentor, Roy Hightower. He shared those skills during a stint in the Peace Corps after college, then settled in Savannah in the late 1990s to spread the bee gospel, trading rent for honey on a space on Oatland Island to keep his apiaries and teach beekeeping classes.

“I think three people showed up to the first one, and one of them thought it was supposed to be a bookkeeping class so she left,” he recalls with a laugh. 

After selling jars of Tupelo honey at a friend’s gift shop — the then-nascent local luxury vanguard One Fish Two Fish — for a few years, Dennard officially launched Savannah Bee Co. in 2002. By adding harvests culled from other beekeepers, he and his tiny team began producing a line of artisanal honeys, supplements and body products.

Walking through the labyrinthine 40-thousand-square-foot headquarters on Wilmington Island that SBC has occupied since 2008, Dennard points to a battered, 1970s-era Crockpot.

“That’s what I used to make the lip balms,” he says, shaking his head. “I never knew this was coming.”

“This” is the phenomenal success of his company, which grew in fits and starts at first but has gained steady traction under the purview of his former college roommate and COO, Richard Grayson. Along with selling wares at 14 gorgeously appointed retail locations around the country — including our own Broughton Street and River Street — Savannah Bee does a bustling e-commerce business that ships all over the world.

Boosted by a mention of the cleverly packaged Book of Honey as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, overall production ballooned by 41 percent in 2021.

“It was a big leap,” says Dennard with a slow whistle. “Add in supply chain hell and COVID interruptions, and you can imagine what a crazy year it was.”

With the launch of a slew of new products, including Hot Honey and Honey Hot Sauce (Scotch bonnet and habanero peppers give just the right amount of sting), SBC is also celebrating its 20th anniversary with buzz about another big move.

Like a bee colony that’s outgrown its hive, Dennard and his team are about to swarm to the other side of town. The 65-thousand-square-foot building in West Savannah, formerly Savannah Soap, is being readied to house the company’s rapidly growing honey production, shipping and sales departments and enlarge its flagship retail showroom to 2,500 square feet (a hexagonal honeycomb design echoing throughout). An indoor/outdoor mead bar, kids’ area, food truck park and raised deck to host live music will offer plenty of reasons for customers to stop by and stay awhile. 

Across the street from the new Enmarket Arena, the new facility will surely be an anchor for the forthcoming Canal District, as well as expand SBC’s educational reach. While all of its retail shops include interactive installations, the new “hive,” opening later this year, will feature a massive garden to learn about bees and their importance to our food systems and the planet.


Boosted by a mention of the cleverly packaged Book of Honey as one
of Oprah’s Favorite Things, overall production ballooned by 41 percent in 2021.


“It’s going to raise the mission in a much bigger way,” says Dennard.

While the CEO obviously marks success with the financial numbers, it is the manifestation of its mission that really counts — to save the bees. Plagued by pesticides and other pollutants, bee colonies around the world have suffered collapse, their habitats under siege by encroaching development. Cultivating honeybee hives helps bees survive by providing shelter and protecting queens, and SBC folds in education about these enterprising pollinators at every level, from packaging to retail experience.

SBC also reflects the bees’ reliance on working together as a community. Proceeds from its Peace Honey benefit the Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club, which provides after-school activities, homework help and hot meals to Savannah youth. To further the idea that saving the bees is a worldwide endeavor, the company has engaged schoolchildren in beekeeping through its nonprofit Bee Cause Project, placing hives in more than 300 schools in all 50 states and four countries since 2013.

For Dennard, it all comes back to the bees. As he delicately replaces the frame back in the hive with an affectionate pat, he zeroes in on one free spirit still humming lazily at a bright red bottlebrush.

“Did you know that every bee colony visits over five hundred million flowers a year?” he asks, shaking his head with incredulity. “It just never gets old.” 


HONEYCOMB LEMONADE

Pretty and refreshing — just add mead for a boozy kick. // Serves 3

1 c. Savannah Bee Company honey of your choice
Savannah Bee Company Raw Honeycomb, plus extra for garnish
½ lemon sliced into thin wedges
3 c. freshly squeezed lemonade
3 c. mead, such as Monk’s Mead (optional)

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together the honey and 2 cups water until honey has dissolved. Set aside to cool. Using a silicone ice tray with large openings (we used a tray that makes large bourbon sized square ice cubes), cut pieces of the raw honeycomb and add to each opening of the tray, making sure to push some onto the sides and bottom. Fill each opening with the cooled honey simple syrup. Freeze, preferably overnight. 

To serve, layer a rocks glass with honeycomb ice cubes and lemon slices. Top with all lemonade or equal parts lemonade and mead. Garnish with raw honeycomb. 


Pro tip: Love feta cheese with your watermelon? We do, too. Just crumble a bit over this dish before serving.

GRILLED HOT HONEY WATERMELON SLICES

Summertime in every bite. // Serves 2

8 (1-inch) slices of fresh watermelon, room temperature
3 tbsp. avocado oil, divided
2 tbsp. Savannah Bee Company Hot Honey

2 limes, 1 cut into wedges and the other cut in half
Flaky sea salt
½ lemon sliced into thin wedges

Heat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to high. Brush watermelon slices with oil and place on hot grill. Grill (without turning) until grill marks are nice and charred on the watermelon, and remove from heat. To serve, drizzle the remaining oil, honey and juice from the two halves of lime over the grilled slices. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges. 


HONEY-SOY GRILLED BOK CHOY

Sweet honey-soy glaze enhances the natural flavors of vibrant and tender bok choy. // Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp. Savannah Bee Company Wildflower Honey
2 tbsp. soy sauce 
1 tbsp. hoisin

2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. rice vinegar
2 bok choy, cut in half lengthwise
Cooking spray

Stir together the honey, soy sauce, hoisin, sesame oil, and vinegar. Set aside half of the glaze for serving. Next, Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Coat the bok choy with cooking spray. Place on the grill, cut sides down. Grill 2 minutes. Turn and brush with the glaze. Grill 2 to 3 minutes longer or until the bok choy is crisp-tender. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with the reserved glaze.


Pro tip: Keep it extra local with pork from Whippoorwill Farms, available at Forsyth Farmers’ Market.

SPICY HAWAIIAN PORK BURGERS

These subtly spicy burgers use hot honey on both the patty and the buns. Grilled pineapple adds Polynesian flair (and flavor). // Serves 4

1½ lbs. ground pork
1 tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 c. mayonnaise

5 tbsp. Savannah Bee Company Hot Honey, divided
4 slices fresh pineapple
4 slices red onion
4 brioche buns, split and toasted
4 leaves green leaf lettuce

Combine the pork, mustard, garlic powder, and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Shape the mixture into 4 patties. Season with salt and pepper. Next, Stir together the mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon hot honey. Set aside.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the burgers 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until done, basting with the remaining ¼ cup hot honey as they cook. Grill the pineapple and onion 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the pineapple is charred and the onion is tender.

To serve, spread the mayonnaise on the cut sides of the buns. Top the bottom buns with the burgers, lettuce, pineapple and onion. Drizzle honey over and replace the bun tops.


ONE-BOWL CUPCAKES WITH HONEY-CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

These one-bowl cupcakes add a touch of honey-kissed sweetness from orange blossom honey. // Serves 12

FOR THE CUPCAKES:
2 large eggs
½ c. granulated sugar 
½ c. Savannah Bee Company Orange Blossom Honey
½ c. vegetable oil
½ c. whole buttermilk
1½ c. all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract

FOR THE FROSTING:
¼ c. salted butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened 
2½ c. powdered sugar
3 tbsp. Savannah Bee Company Orange Blossom Honey, plus more for drizzling
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pink food coloring (optional)
Edible flowers; we used orange blossoms (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, honey, oil and buttermilk in a large bowl. Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla extract. Divide batter evenly between the paper liners. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely. 

To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, honey, and vanilla. Tint with pink food coloring, if desired. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the tops of the cooled cupcakes. Drizzle with additional honey, and garnish with edible flowers, if desired.

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