Readee’s Bees

Readee’s Bees

As a carpenter turned bee whisperer, Read Nichols, the owner of Savannah’s Readee’s Bees, is a dedicated, hardworking purist that started his small business over a decade ago.

He said it best when I sat down with him to learn all about the pure Southern gold he sells around town:

“I got into it to serve the public the best honey in Savannah. The best!” Although Nichols gained experience working with bees growing up in West Virginia, he got back into the bee business while working at Hunter Army Airfield.

A co-worker who had worked with bees got with Nichols to transfer some bees onto his very own property on Wilmington Island.

From there things grew by the gallon of honey, which is easy to do when a producer takes as much pride in his product as Nichols does.

Within the first year of business, Readee’s Bees was accepted to sell his product at the Forsyth Farmers Market. “I sold all of it the first day,” he chuckles.

“I started the bees out here at the house, and I got ten or fifteen hives out here, and it was really good until the mosquito sprayer came,” Nichols recalls.

“Three years in a row they came and annihilated my bees, so I moved them over to South Carolina. Ever since then it’s been blasting off. We have over five hundred hives over there now, separated in maybe six or eight different lots.

Readee’s Bees’ farm sits next to a wildlife refuge in South Carolina, which is why it produces wildflower honey—a type that can be said to be his signature

Wildflower honey is the result of bees who come in contact with—as you probably guessed—wildflower nectar.

“A lot of people misunderstand about honey, that you put flavors in it. You cannot flavor honey unless you want to flavor it,” he explains.

“The only flavors I have are the cinnamon and peach cream honey, and that is it. The other honeys are all actual natural nectars that come off of the flowers that the bees bring back, they put it into the hive, and they turn it into honey. It takes one bee to go get it and bring it back to another bee who transforms it into honey and puts it into the hive,” Nichols says.

So if you buy orange blossom honey you can expect the natural flavor to come from the nectar of the orange blossom plant that was close to the bees’ home.

As for the rest of the honey sold by Nichols, he carefully sources the honey from only the best grade A farms around the country.Tupelo, sourwood, blackberry, blueberry, cotton honey, orange blossom, clover, and buckwheat are the other types of honeys bottled locally. Each type has its only subtle variance of texture, color, and flavor.

The buckwheat I sampled was almost like molasses, thick and pungent, while the wildflower had delicate floral notes.

After his quick success at the Forsyth Farmers Market, Nichols was given the opportunity to provide his honey to local restaurants and stores around Savannah.

Going through the proper channels, Readee’s Bees gained its wholesale license through the Department of Agriculture. He designed his own one of a kind processing trailer, which was approved by the Department of Agriculture, to kickstart the growth of his business.

To this day, Nichols works in that same trailer where he hand pours every bottle of honey and hand cuts each square of honeycomb. Nichols showed me his process.

Large wood frames stuffed with honey comb, delivered directly from his South Carolina farm, are brought to his processing property, where he perfectly measures out each square and slices them before packaging the dense rich comb into its individual container.

Inside the trailer sits an extractor where he places honeycomb to be rapidly spun and all of its sticky sweet syrup removed. Gallons of floral natural honey line the walls, ready to be poured into their individual bottles then labeled. All of Readee’s Bees’ honey is pure raw unprocessed honey.

100% honey means just that, nothing else is included. I ask Nichols how he achieves his pure natural gold, and the answer is far from simple.

Getting truly pure honey into a bottle means controlling the environment in which the bees live. If the bees come into contact with hummingbird feed, the processed sugar syrup can ruin the honey.

The bigger the property to keep the hives, the less likelihood interference from outside sugars can occur. Some farms have at least fifty acres to ensure the utmost purity.

If you have ever purchased honey that crystallized soon thereafter, it is often the result of buying impure honey. Nichols explains, “When one molecule of sugar gets in a five gallon bucket, it is history.”

The boutique bee company has a few extremely unique and original products. The jalapeño honey is extremely popular, with its expertly balanced heat followed by sweetness to cool down your palate.

The peach and cinnamon cream honeys are hand mixed by Nichols, and are a top secret recipe. The peach is made by combining a peach extract which results in a honey spread that smells like fresh peach ice cream.

For the bee pollen, according to Nichols, “The pollen comes off of the flowers, which is balled up on the bee’s legs. We collect it also. The bee goes through a finger catch in the front hive, it [the pollen] drops down onto a tray, and we collect it everyday.”

Since 2007, Read has been selling his honey at the Forsyth Farmers Market. And unless he is sick, you can find his booth on any given Saturday morning. He sources to several local restaurants including The Grey, Husk, and Elizabeth on 37th.

But if you would like to find it in a store, try Brighter Day, Lucky’s Market, or Fresh Market.

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A Story about Savannah’s Native Yaupon Plant

A Story about Savannah’s Native Yaupon Plant

EVERY SAVANNAHIAN has had his or her fair share of sweet tea. However, long before the sugary cups of brown “Savannah Water” were served alongside deep fried seafood treats, the natives of our area enjoyed the taste and healing properties of yaupon—a leafy plant that has been brewed for a very long time.

Luckily, Savannah has two visionaries bringing back the use of the ancient plant.
Owners Lou Thomann and Lori Judge are true pioneers in the world of Savannah’s native yaupon holly. What started with a dream has now turned into Yaupon Tea House & Apothecary.

I was lucky enough to sit down with the pair and enjoy Yaupon Tea House & Apothecary’s ceremonial brew exactly as the Native Americans once did.

“Different tribes would share the tea, and it would create a bond. When Oglethorpe came to Savannah, Tomochichi gave Oglethorpe a cup of this tea,” Judge told me.

As we shared the light, earthy, warm tea, Thomann, who could be considered a self-taught expert on the subject, educated me on the history of yaupon.

On a getaway to Ossabaw Island with the owners of Service Brewery, the two were introduced to the yaupon plant by John “Crawfish” Crawford who, according to Thomann, is one of the most knowledgeable naturalists in the coastal area.

After hand picking and brewing fresh tea over their campfire, Thomann instantly fell in love with the tea and its history.

Thomann returned home and immediately began researching the native holly.

“It opened up this whole world; I realized that this is a huge treasure. This was the most sacred plant in North America amongst indigenous people for thousands of years, and nobody knows anything about it. We started making little tea bags, hand picking it, giving it to people, going to charity events serving it,” explained Thomann.

He started small by harvesting the native plant and distributing it in different forms—tea bags, bottled tea, and more. I’m sure that most locals are very well acquainted with his tea company and its products, ASI Tea Company, even if they may not know it.

The next phase of growth for Thomann occurred with implementation of two yaupon farms, one in Metter, Ga., and one in Florida.

“We have ten thousand plants that we planted. We are doing it in row crops to see if they can be grown that way because right now it is just grown in the wild,” Judge says.
Thomann elaborates:

“The farm in Metter is the research farm. The entire farm is not growing yaupon. We are growing probably about fifteen acres. We first started harvesting yaupon on Heard Island, which is a little barrier island off of Darien, and we propagated,” he says.

“We were genetically selective with which plants looked good and healthy. We propagated them, and we planted about ten to twelve thousand of those plants on the farm in a row crop. No one has ever done that before.”

As America’s only indigenous source of natural caffeine, the yaupon plant has magical properties. Beyond caffeine, the plant contains theobromine, an alkaloid of the cacao plant.

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Together the two natural stimulates give drinkers a slight boost while imparting many believed health benefits such as better digestion, lower blood pressure, and immune-boosting properties.

Thomann‘s goal is to further explore the many benefits of the tea. “We were just awarded a phase two USDA small business innovation research grant, which is to study the feasibility of yaupon for food,” he tells me.

They are pushing even more by reaching for a National Institute of Health grant, which will catapult the duo and their local farm to work towards clinical trials, the purpose being to document the true health benefits of the magical plant.

The most recent, but not final, phase of expansion for the two is their official storefront, which opened April of this year. Sitting inside beneath a large open sunlight that fills the space with warmth is a tall busy yaupon tree that the two brought from their farm.

While Thomann is the yaupon master, Judge has begun to study up on herbalism. The Teahouse has brought the two together, through its mission to recreate traditional uses of yaupon and share natural yaupon products with local Savannah.

Tourists and locals can stop in and enjoy their ceremonial tea—just like I did. The brew is served in a handmade replica of Cahokia civilization’s ceremonial cup.

As the in-house expert on the subject, Thomann tells me the story. “It was one of the largest settlements of Native Americans in the 1700s or 1800s; it was a bigger city than London, as a comparison. In that village they found earthenware similar to this with yaupon and cocoa residue in the cup that was tested. They found it in thousand year old cups.”

Again, honoring the native traditions of yaupon, Yaupon Tea House serves Cocoa Yaupon Tea.

If you feel it is just too warm to drink your tea hot, iced is the modified classic southern version. Yaupon Tea House sells house blended functional teas to take home and brew yourself.

On tap are two original and exclusive yaupon brewed organic kombuchas, which vary from time to time and are available by the cup or by the growler.

“Yaupon has natural sugars, probably in the saponins, so when you make kombucha you do not have to put in as much sugar to ferment it,” Thomann explains.

As for the layout of the apothecary in Yaupon Tea House & Apothecary, on the right of the store you will find rows of exclusive and unique to the store products. The tea house sourced high quality small artisanal businesses to work with and create the unique wellness products.

Customers will find things such as handmade yaupon soap, CBD and yaupon blended products, essential oil balms, facial steams, seasonal skincare products, and much much more. Yaupon pairs well with CBD because, much like CBD, it has natural anti-inflammatory properties.

By blending yaupon with other natural plants and herbs, Yaupon Tea House is offering items that contain ingredients that harmonize and boost the properties of each ingredient.

The hardworking duo will keep pushing. Thomann said it best when he told me that they “are going to start lectures. We are looking for people in the health and wellness space to do either workshops or lectures.”

Savannah gets its own Food Truck Park

Savannah gets its own Food Truck Park

By now the rumors of Savannah’s first food truck park have been confirmed. One may even say dispelled because what is actually coming to Savannah’s Starland District is so much more than a food truck park.

If you drive through the bustling Starland District, you will not miss the expansive space which now holds stacked shipping containers. These containers make up the spot that will soon be called Starland Yard. The creators, which include Guy Davidson, Pila Sunderland, Niko Ormond, John Benhase, and Ava Pandiani, wanted to bring locals a shareable space that would bring all of the Starland District (and Savannah) together.

The focus is local fool and local art plus the accumulation of community to create a truly local Savannah experience.

Q: Tell me the story of Starland Yard.

A: The whole idea was that Starland District, for a long time, has had this dream of the come up: It is going to be great, this is going to be where Savannahians hang out, this is going to be where all these restaurants are going to be, it is going to be all of these different stores. For me, when I first moved here four years ago, my first job was at the Florence, so I heard that all the time: if we get one more restaurant down here, if there is one more thing to do down here, it is really going to happen. Then the Atlantic opened and that was great. But anyone who lives here knows that it has always been maybe this time, maybe now. I think this [Starland Yard] is the push that is really going to make it happen. Between us and Victory North, this is really making [Starland] a destination.

Q: What are some of the features that are going to be included?

A: We have a covered area that can be a private event space. We can hold up to fifty people just in the top. So we are thinking weddings, we are thinking if you want to have your corporate party for something or someone is retiring, you can have your own space.

We can fit four trucks in the rainbow drive area. And just as easily we can flip one to face [the event space]. If your group just wants Pie Society’s food truck, you can close [the event space] off easily and make it to where you can still see everyone.
There is going to be a kids area. It is going to have four foot walls so the kids are not running into trucks. If you are a parent you can sit in a covered area, you can have your kids running around. They can eat a hot dog, have a view and a beer. The idea is to make it very comfortable for everyone.

We will have bocce and cornhole. Things like that for people who want to drink a beer and play a game.

There is another container in the back that will have televisions. There will be televisions there but not the bar. If you want to watch a UGA game on a Sunday there is a space for you to do that. Then the bar isn’t just sports bar vibe.
Jimmy from the Butcher is doing a big mural. We have been talking to a few other artists. Part one is we want [Starland Yard] to be inclusive of the community that we are in. Especially when we are hiring, we want everyone to feel like this is their space, and they can come here. Part two is we want it to represent local artists too, which is important. That is the vibe of Starland so we want to keep that going.

Q: How will Starland Yard work?

A: We are going to be a cashless, and when I say cashless it is with an asterisk—of course some insist people on paying with cash. A cashless establishment so you can come here and open a tab immediately [at the entrance]. So now Starland Yard has my credit card swiped in with my name and my number. I can now go to Vittoria and get a pizza and put it on the tab. I can go to the bar and get a drink and put it on the tab. I can go to Pie Society, get a blueberry cobbler and put it on the tab. The exit will be on the other side of the entrance, so when people are coming out they will checkout, they will get one check, and they pay at one time.

The one exception to the rule is that Kyle is quasi-independent. If you want to come in and just get a pizza then leave, we will still check your ID to make sure you are 21, but if you just want to pay at Vittoria you can.

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