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How The Ritz Gets High on Honey

How The Ritz Gets High on Honey

Already have a working garden at your restaurant? Then why not explore the final frontier of sustainable onsite food production by adding a working apiary? That’s what they’ve done at the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, garnering plenty of foodie street cred along the way by menuing dishes made with the honey its bees produce. Even better: the actual beekeeping duties can be outsourced.

A few lucky chefs enjoy the luxury of onsite gardens, growing herbs, vegetables and other consumable goodies for their customers as the seasons allow. Having your own garden make a statement about a restaurant’s commitment to sustainability while providing a steady stream of ultra-fresh, naturally grown ingredients to the kitchen. Food doesn’t get more local than this.

But they’re taking it one step further at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, NC, which has LEED Gold certification. The hotel’s green roof primarily features 18,000 sedum plants (sedum is a perennial that’s preferred to grass for green roof buildings) to provide building insulation. But there’s also a chef’s garden that supplies organic herbs for the hotel’s kitchens. The latest addition: two beehives, which will generate honey for the kitchen, as well.

When the hives reach full production mode in mid-summer, a total of approximately 60,000 bees will be working the garden and the surrounding area’s plants. The Ritz expects to harvest 70 pounds of all-natural, chemical-free raw honey from each hive.

“Honeybees love herbs, and we’re hoping they will especially enjoy the fresh lavender growing within our rooftop garden,” Ritz Carlton Charlotte executive chef Jon Farace. “Because honey is considered the flavor of the land, it is likely that the bees’ rooftop habitat and pollination of our herb garden will lend a wonderfully unique flavor to their honey.”

So who will be tending the hives? It’s supposed to be collaboration between the hotel’s chefs and the folks from local beekeepers Cloister Honey. We’re betting that the experienced beekeepers wind up doing the work, while the chefs focus on production of the special selection of honey-based dining items that will be offered in all three of the Ritz Carlton Charlotte’s dining venues.

One thing seems sure here. Handled correctly, this should lead to a publicity and marketing bonanza that will cost the hotel next to nothing. What newspaper or magazine food section editor wouldn’t want to cover a story like this? And you can’t beat onsite beehives as a way to emphasize your operation’s commitment to green business practices, local and fresh ingredient sourcing, all natural food items and an ongoing commitment to sustainability.

It’s a big payoff for a small investment, especially since it’s so easy to arrange for professional beekeepers to handle all of the heavy lifting. Beekeepers routinely place their bees on other people’s property, particularly in agricultural areas. Spotting a hive or two at a restaurant’s garden isn’t much of a stretch for them.

If you’ve got a garden, we say put out some feelers to your local beekeepers association and see what you can get going while it’s still early in the season.