Feb. 5, 2024 By Seán Ó Briain
It is a Tuesday afternoon and Honey House co-founder Nick Hoefly is experimenting with a new beeswax wrap at his newly opened store on 23rd Ave. in Astoria.
Beeswax wrap, a sort of reusable and environmentally friendly kitchen foil, is the latest specialty bee-inspired product that Hoefly plans to offer at the Honey House.
The Honey House, opened by Hoefly and his wife Ashley, celebrated its grand opening at the end of January following a nine-month-long renovation at the 33-22 23rd Ave. location.
The immersive space offers a blend of educational classes and bee-related products, such as honey, beeswax candles, and mead.
Hoefly discovered his beekeeping passion eight years ago, starting with two small hives on the rooftop of his Astoria apartment, and launched his company Astor Apiaries to sell the honey that he produced.
He joked that his wife Ashley “came along for the ride” and added that they soon discovered that there was a significant demand for locally-produced honey in New York City.
Over the past eight years, Astor Apiaries has launched a number of “hive tours” at dozens of sites around the city, while the company also launched an urban beekeeping apprenticeship program at the Compost Collective in Forest Hills two years ago, teaching 10 people at a time how to tend to a beehive.
The company, operated by Nick and Ashley, acquired the site on 23rd Avenue last April and set about converting it into a bespoke store offering a range of specialty products in addition to an event space for workshops and courses.
“The whole concept of this space was for it to be an experience shop,” Hoefly said. “There’s lots of great gift shops already in Astoria. There’s lots of specialty food shops around the whole city, but there’s no place where you can go and buy honey and learn about the bees that made it. You can pick up beekeeping gear if you’re a beekeeper.
“We wanted to have a place where you could come and experience beekeeping and honey, rather than just become a little gift shop.”
Among the courses offered at the new location include honey tasting events, candle-making workshops, and mead-making classes, but Hoefly plans to offer the space to experts in other fields in the near future.
“We have a woman who’s coming in to do cooking classes for kids. We have someone coming in to do gardening class. We’ll be talking to someone who teaches people how to paint with beeswax. We have so much more to offer than just beekeeping 101 and honey tasting.”
Hoefly described the store as the first brick and mortar beekeeping location in New York City and said it wouldn’t be possible without the local community.
A crowdfunding effort to help complete renovations at the Honey House raised almost $4,000 last September, while Hoefly said several local businesses were happy to lend a hand in any way they could over the past nine months.
“We can’t do this shop if we don’t have the community’s support. Beekeeping is local no matter where you go. If your community doesn’t care about it then people outside your community are definitely not going to care about it. It’s a big deal to have the local community involved.”
Hoefly said his wife takes care of the retailing and merchandising at the new store, coming up with various new products to sell, while he takes care of the “grunt work” at the hives.
He said the store’s New York City Honey is by far the most popular product at the Honey House, adding that it “flies off the shelves”.
However, the store also carries a number of honeys produced by small or medium-sized beekeepers operating in New York and the surrounding area.
“I’ve had a conversation with every single beekeeper who makes the honey that we have on the shelves. It’s not like it’s coming from a catalog somewhere and we’re buying from some honey-producing factory somewhere. I know the guy who is working the bees that made that honey. It’s a very personal journey that the honey makes from them to us.”
Hoefly said customers will also be able to purchase their very own beehives from the store during the season, with each package containing around 10,000 worker bees and a queen.
The store also carries beeswax candles, lip balms, teas, beekeeping gear, and a number of children’s products, including children’s books that also serve an educational purpose about the role of bees.
Hoefly believes that the education of children is pivotal in the future protection of bees and other pollinators and added that one of the aims of the store is to help foster an interest in the environment among young people.
“If we can open up a kid’s eyes to nature and show them that there’s a little bit beyond the limits of the city, it’s a good way to set those ideas early and pique their interest in nature, even if they don’t want to be a beekeeper or learn about bees.” said Hoefly.
“It might be trees or birds, but we’re at a point where people need to be way more conscious of the environment.”