Conservation // 5 min Read

Savannah Bee Company

Written by Tim Wood

Jun 16, 2021


Ted Dennard knows what most people see when a bee invades their personal space. They are the enemy of relaxation, a pest that must be expelled before it becomes a stinging assassin.

If not for meeting an elderly beekeeper on his native St. Simons Island, Dennard might feel the same way. Once the teenager was exposed to the heritage beyond the fear and stereotypes, he saw these marvels of nature in a completely different light.

“They are amazing role models. Bees have a relentless work ethic; they are so giving to the world around them,” said the founder of the Savannah Bee Company. “One beehive will visit more than 500 million flowers in a year. The sheer volume of their positive ripples on the plant world is epic. They are a vital resource, and I knew early on in life that it was just as vitally important to show others that bees are heroes to be celebrated.”

His mentor, Roy Hightower, believed in beekeeping as a way of life. As much as he learned from Hightower, Dennard never imagined that he’d be able to build a career around spreading that gospel and extracting the fruits of the bees’ labor.

More than 40 years later, he’s become one of the country’s foremost bee preachers and has built an unlikely yet ever-growing business and education empire around a hobby that became a life’s passion.

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“I’m the first to admit that this path was far from intentional,” Dennard said. “I had great parents and an easy life growing up, so I knew I wanted to give back and create positive ripples like the bees, but it has been an incredible journey in finding how to achieve that mission.”

After he graduated from college in the late ’80s, Dennard joined the Peace Corps, using his tutelage from Hightower to teach beekeeping in Jamaica at a time when the world’s bee population was nearly eradicated by a mite pandemic.

“These Varroa mites, they decimated beehives in the US and around the world. Over 90 percent of the world’s feral hives were destroyed,” he said. “Teaching the Jamaican people to care for, protect, and rebuild the hives, that’s really where I first learned how much I was benefiting by giving.”

When he returned stateside and moved his handful of beehives to Savannah in 1997, a then 30-year-old Dennard struggled to pay rent, let alone find his life’s purpose, after a failed wildlife-focused business venture.

“I just couldn’t believe I didn’t have my life figured out by then. What am I doing? Why did I study religion in college? I got past the self-pity by taking out a pad of paper and writing down all of my interests that I could see being a profession.”

At the top of the list was his dream job, directing movies. Then came health and wellness, medicine, and massage therapy. Bees barely made the list.

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“I’d made some tonics with honey and herbs, but I didn’t want to adulterate my passion,” he said. “And no one cared about craft honey. People were used to one taste. I wanted to innovate, but I didn’t think there was any money in marketing unique flavors.”

He was inspired as he watched his equally broke roommate, Jennifer Grayson, take a $5,000 loan to open her One Fish Two Fish boutique on Whitaker Street in 1998. As it turned out, Grayson was equally impressed with Dennard’s honey-making skills.

“She thought it was a perfect thing to sell in her store, so I gave it a go,” he said. Dennard convinced his dad to pay for a beekeeping workshop in Vancouver, where the Savannah Bee Company name was born.

Dennard’s hives came from groves of Southern Georgia Tupelo trees that led to a sweet, buttery honey flavor and lower Appalachian sourwood tree groves that yielded what he called a “rich orchestra full of gingerbread, maple, and licorice flavors.” The recipes became a hit with Grayson’s customers and became the talk of the budding downtown district. A fellow upstart entrepreneurial family by the name of Parker wanted to sell the honey at their new convenience store in town.

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“We put the Tupelo and sourwood honey in a tall wine flute, so I think the packaging and the quality and unique taste really stood out,” Dennard said.

Over the next three years, Dennard worked a handful of jobs while growing his nectar side hustle. Honey addicts sang his praises far beyond Savannah, and as demand grew, Dennard bought 50 beehives as he fine-tuned his honey and crafted lip balm and candles for wholesale customers around the US.

“I was still deep in debt. The bees were just one of many gigs, but I saw the interest and the fan base growing,” Dennard said. “I incorporated and set out to truly create a business. I maxed out credit cards, went all in, decided that I would give it everything, all of my focus, for one year in 2002. If this was going to fail, it would not be because of my lack of effort.

“Niche categories were being built around beer, wine, and cheeses. I went to my first trade show thinking, ‘Why not create a romance around honey like the bees deserved?’ And it was a big hit there. After that first trade show, I knew this was my path.”

Dennard did just enough sales in that first year to prove to himself that there was real potential. Website and wholesale revenue grew incrementally over the next five years, especially when Williams-Sonoma added the honey to their catalog mailed to 40 million potential customers worldwide.

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That led Dennard to his first storefront, opened on Savannah’s Broughton Street in 2008. Twelve years later, the Savannah Bee Company opened their 15th store in Greenville, South Carolina. Dennard was first to market, and Savannah Bee is now one of the kings of a rapidly overcrowded scene of honey-focused sellers, bringing in $20 million in sales in 2019.

He works with 100 beekeepers worldwide to create his company’s signature honey recipes, with all the honey still bottled by a three-person crew at his Wilmington Island beehive base.

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After hiring a CEO to continue growing the business in 2012, Dennard turned his focus to educating people about the plight and importance of the bees. Beginning with educational bee garden tours on Wilmington Island, he then partnered with Sullivan's Island Elementary School to place an observational beehive in the school.

“I’d go in to the schools and give a whole lesson around the importance of bees and how they go about their magic,” he said. “To see the kids’ eyes light up, to see them give their own presentations about the honeybees, I knew we were on to something and we had to grow it.”

Dennard launched the not-for-profit Bee Cause Project in 2013 and brought on Tami Enright, a parent from one of their first schools, to be the project director. The organization now has 500 hives in schools in 50 states and four countries.

“The kids are so excited; they teach their parents, and soon, we’ve impacted a whole new generation,” Dennard said. “The work Tami and our crew of volunteers has done, it’s just amazing. We’re going to get this into 1,000 schools
and beyond.”

He has also partnered with the Exuma Foundation to help bring hives to the bee-barren Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. Over the past five years, alongside Enright and foundation director Catherine Booker, the Exuma Project has grown from 11 imported hives to more than 200 beehives cared for by 16 native beekeepers educated by the foundation.

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“Catherine Booker and the Exuma Foundation, they are doing revolutionary work. Those projects rarely work, so to create this self-sustaining colony, they’re selling honey and keeping bees healthy. This is how we save the bees, one movement at a time,” Dennard said. “The bee population, it’s dying a death by a thousand cuts. Pests, diseases, chemicals, climate change, it all screws up flowering patterns. The mites are the worst; they transmit viruses. The bees are stressed and infected, and the hive collapses. So, we have to stay ahead of the fight, and that’s all about education and advocacy.”

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Bottled honey is still the core of the business behind that advocacy, but Dennard and his crew continue to find new ways to share the honey romance, from soaps and salves to hand and body care creams. He predicts one of their newest inventions, a Tupelo honey hot sauce infused with Jamaican Scotch bonnet peppers, is “going to literally knock your socks off.”

The company is also launching a Peace Honey brand, with sale proceeds directed to Savannah’s Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club to help educate beekeepers of color.

The 54-year-old is still in awe that he has been able to continue his mentor’s mission, to make beekeeping and education a way of life for wife, Carolyn, and his four kids. “Everything we do, it’s all about being symbiotic with nature and contributing positive ripples to the world,” he said. “I feel like the luckiest man. I love what I do, and I feel like I’m making a difference. How lucky is that? That’s the gold right there.”

For more information about Savannah Bee Company, including a list of products, and to learn more about The Bee Cause Project and Exuma Project, visit savannahbee.com. |

Read the original story in the Spring / Summer 2021 edition of the bluff.