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Honey, I grew the bees

Andy Ouriel • Apr 16, 2014 at 12:32 PM

Many experienced beekeepers tend to hesitate when they approach a swarm of buzzing insects flying around their hives. But not Bill Stein, whose friendly but persistent attitude resonates with the bees.

Case in point: His skin was free of stings after he dismantled, inspected and reconstructed an entire hive on a recent weekday.

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Even if just one bee perceives Bill as an intruder seeking to destroy the hive — an environment perfectly tailored to a queen’s liking — the entire colony would attack his flesh.

And that would be a battle between him and 80,000 bees.    But these honey-makers seem to trust Bill, remaining calm as they traverse the various sections of their hive.

Bill also trusts the bees. He only wears a mask, and no other protective clothing, when he breeds, feeds, raises and cares for the insects living in 625 of his hives spread across 25 sites in three counties.

   “You always want to make sure a queen is laying a good brood pattern so it’s a good strong hive” Bill said. “If you have a strong queen, you’ll have a strong hive, which is good for honey”

The tenacious, positive work effort helped elevate the company he and his wife own, Collins-based Stein’s Honey, into northern Ohio’s leading honey producer and dealer.

About 55 area stores, farmers markets and other businesses sell Stein’s Honey. The company offers several sweet, savoryselections, ranging from the traditional honey topping — tasty on fruits and breads — to a creamy, cinnamoninfused spread.

“It’s good, local honey,” said Tom Jenkins, owner of Health Plus on Hull Road in Perkins Township.

Jenkins’ customers agree. His store sells about 120 pounds of Stein’s Honey each month.

“The price is good, the service is good and the customers like it, so we have it” Jenkins said.

Big work for small business

Many conceive Stein’s Honey as a multifaceted organization on a big farm, packed with dozens of employees controlling massive machinery in a spacious work area.

But the entire operation is located in Bill and Bonnie’s modest West Collins Road home.

They’re the only two employees, with Bill producing the bulk of the honey and Bonnie mainly marketing the brand.

Some friends and family members — including their son, Wes, and daughter, Megan — also contribute, mainly by delivering the product to areas spanning from Cleveland, Mansfield, Oak Harbor and many places in between.

Upon entering the Stein’s garage, a visitor’s eyes would fixate immediately on a metal machine, called an extractor. The frame, a removable rectangular part found within each hive, zips around the extractor, and honey separates from the frame.

Once separated, the liquid flows down a pipe, connected to the extractor, and into hulking barrels located in the basement. There the product is also heated, bottled and packaged. The basement also serves as the company’s storage hub, stockpiling thousands of containers that’ll eventually be filled with honey.

Some minor tweaks and growth have occurred, but the operation has remained relatively the same since debuting in 1997.

“It does take a lot of work, but we get a good product out of it that people like,” Bill said. “We’re successful because there is not a lot of competition. The older beekeepers are getting out of it, and there aren’t many younger people getting into it. That helps with our success. But we still strive to make the best product possible”

Going full time

This year marks the first all-in effort to officially make Stein’s Honey a full-time venture.

Bill, a former foreman at Underground Utilities in Monroeville, quit his primary job to dedicate most of his time to the honey business.

“I would come home from work and start working for the honey business,” Bill said. “Same with nights, weekends and all summer long. Vacation time was my time to extract the honey. I didn’t have a vacation. But it just got to be too much”

With the honey season recently kicking off, both Bill and Bonnie dream big for their small company.

With a good spring and summer — one that’s not terribly wet — Bill would expect to produce upwards of 60,000 pounds of honey this year. The company’s previous high was 42,000 pounds.

Beyond this year, the Steins aspire for their business to support them for the foreseeable future.

“As long as we can make a go of this and keep our products on the shelves and retire doing this for the next 15 or 20 years, then we’ll be happy” Bill said.

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