Savannah Bee founder Ted Dennard was first introduced to honey as a 12-year old boy on his father’s Coastal Georgia retreat property when a battered old pickup carrying beehives rattled into his life. The bee-covered driver of that flatbed truck was Roy Hightower, an elderly beekeeper scouting sites suitable for gathering “Swamp Honey” from the White Tupelo tree. In return for a place to keep his bees, Roy offered young Ted an education in that magical, buzzing world, but with a prophetic word of caution, “Son, bees sort of become a way of life.”
Indeed, bees and honey became Ted’s way of life. He kept bees in high school then at college at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. In a tour with the Peace Corps after college, Ted taught beekeeping to village farmers in Central America. He traveled the world to see bees making medicinal manuka honey in New Zealand, rubber honey in Vietnam, logwood honey in Jamaica, heather honey in Ireland, and the famous tilleul lavender honey of France. “They’ve basically followed me, or I them, ever since I met Old Roy,” he says. “Until recently, it seemed more like Fate than a business plan. I never wanted to do this for the money because I never thought I could make any,” then adds, “and I didn’t want to adulterate my passion.”
Returning home to Savannah, Ted kept bees along the Altamaha River, extracting his honey and pouring it into beautiful found bottles, and crafting lip balms with the wax from his hives. Mixed with luscious essential oils, his lip balm formula was hand-poured into tiny tins and given as gifts to friends and family. When he started selling his home-extracted Tupelo around town in 1998, people loved the purity and richness, and the word spread quickly. “I was bottling honey in the kitchen and keeping bees on the roof,” he recalls. When more Savannah stores wanted to sell his honey, he moved the operation to his garage. The little business continued growing, until he was forced to ask himself the ultimate question: To bee or not to bee?
With his passion blossoming into a business, Ted decided that he couldn’t ignore the potential, so in January of 2002 he quit his job, mortgaged his house, and put all his money into the venture—the Savannah Bee Company. He expanded the honeymaking “plant” into an old 800 square foot classroom at the Oatland Island Wildlife Preserve, where he paid his rent in honey. 2010 finds Ted operating a 40,000 square foot warehouse on Wilmington Island, a bridge’s distance from the City of Savannah. Savannah Bee operates three retail stores, bottles two distinct lines of world-class honeys, and manufactures a luxury beeswax-based body care line. Today’s operation is stark contrast to the days in Ted’s kitchen, but his passion has never changed. “I just love it,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”