The sweetest time of the year may be the best time to visit one of the Steel City’s newest stores. Pittsburgh Honey, located at 2327 Murray Ave., in Squirrel Hill, celebrated its first anniversary on Sept. 1, and it’s still meeting new customers in advance of Rosh Hashanah, the holiday of apples and honey that begins next week.
Alyssa Fine, who runs retail operations, recalled how her father, Albert Fine, introduced her to the viscous treat as a child.
“I grew up with it,” she said. “My father is a beekeeper, and until about kindergarten I thought it was totally normal to have bees. It was only then that I realized other kids have cats and dogs.”
Decades ago, Albert was a hobbyist who kept between three and four hives in the family’s Monongahela yard. Eventually, his interest and involvement blossomed and Albert became a sideliner, someone who “is larger than a hobbyist, but smaller than a commercial beekeeper,” explained Kelley Beekeeping, a Kentucky-based business serving beekeepers since 1924. “The focus of a sideline beekeeper is to actively seek income and profit, while still having another source of income, like a 9-to-5 day job.”
Nowadays, Albert has between 40 and 50 hives and serves as Pittsburgh Honey’s main beekeeper. It is a responsibility that puts him in touch with quite a bit of bees; each hive has about 50,000 to 60,000, noted Alyssa.
Those curious as to what a hive looks like can see a partial one inside Pittsburgh Honey. A handcrafted wood box, complete with transparent glass, sits upright near the boutique’s entrance. Within the box are between 3,000 to 4,000 worker bees and a single queen bee. The workers are all female. Male bees, which are called drones, are primarily responsible for reproduction, explained Alyssa.
A translucent pipe, which connects the observational hive outside, allows bees to bring back pollen. It also facilitates other necessary trips outdoors, noticeable when one bee carried a dead bee away.
“They try to be very efficient,” said Alyssa, whose knowledge of bees, beekeeping and brokerage was bolstered by her undergraduate work at Pennsylvania State University, where she majored in agribusiness management, a program that exposes students to agricultural sciences, accounting, finance, marketing, management and human resources.
Shortly after graduating in December 2010, Alyssa became Pennsylvania Honey Queen. As such, she promoted the commonwealth’s beekeeping industry by providing education, interviews and cooking demonstrations at fairs, festivals and schools.
One year later, she served as American Honey Queen, a role whose primary responsibility is to provide “the entire beekeeping industry with a salesperson and a public representative,” according to the American Beekeeping Federation. “The purpose of the Honey Queen … is to increase the consumption of honey, as well as educate the public about the beekeeping industry nationwide.”
Shortly thereafter, Alyssa returned to the area and created Abeille Beaute, a cosmetics line complete with lotions, lip balms and sugar scrubs, also available at Pittsburgh Honey.
Each of the items possess no preservatives, she said. “There’s nothing you can’t pronounce.”
On a nearby stand in the Squirrel Hill space are other products available for purchase: There is bēdō, a honey playdough that given its makeup “tends to last a little longer,” and beeswax food wraps, which as the name implies are cotton pieces soaked in beeswax. As opposed to enveloping a sandwich in plastic wrap, which is of solitary application, these are reusable and ultimately compostable, said Alyssa.
There’s also bug bars made from citronella, chunks of beeswax and even an inflatable beard of bees.
Positioned beside a packaged Beekeeper Barbie, mere feet from a framed “Bee Movie” (2007) poster, Alyssa said, “It’s a collection of a little bit of everything.”
That “everything” includes honey energy drinks, honey cheese curls and honey candies.
But most of all, there’s honey. In stock on a recent visit were five different kinds, including the colloquially beloved “Black and Gold.” Complete with two six-ounce jars (one with buckwheat honey and the other with Fall Bloom), “Black and Gold” is marketed as “the perfect product for any Pittsburgh fan — or those who just want to sample two great honeys.”
As a business, Pittsburgh Honey is growing, and foot traffic brings in a fair amount of customers, said Alyssa. “It’s fun to think of us around Rosh Hashanah. It’s a season for gift giving, but we have stuff year round.
“People are still finding us.” PJC