The idea appears to be mainly to give the ailing bee population a boost, something that became a concern with reports of colony collapse disorder a few years back. Though having a ready supply of the sweet stuff for use in the restaurant below is a good thing, too.
“The honey part of it is a bonus,” says Bill Clarke, owner of Mission Beach Cafe, which has four hives on its roof.
At Zen Compound, which is home to Temple night club and Ki restaurant in San Francisco, rooftop bees have been a fixture since 2009. Mike Zuckerman, director of sustainability at Zen Compound, oversees the bees along with an apiarist. They have two hives and harvest between 30 and 40 pounds of honey per season, which is used to sweeten tea and as a garnish for cheese plates.
Across the San Francisco Bay, there also are hives at Blue Bottle Coffee and one was just installed at the Camino restaurant in Oakland.
“It’s a fun project,” said Allison Hopelain, who owns the restaurant with husband Russell Moore. Their hive is new, though they hope to harvest some honey in September, which would be used in cocktails and to make sesame candy.
Rooftop beehives can be found in several cities, but seem to be particularly hot in San Francisco, where a number of restaurants have embraced the locavore movement.
“They love our location,” says Clarke, who has a southern exposure. While obtaining honey isn’t his chief objective, he has some ideas for where it might go, including a honey ice cream and a honey and peach-glazed chicken.
Other places with hives include Flour + Water and the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel.
Bees have been in residence at the Fairmont on Nob Hill for a little over a year, sitting in the restaurant’s culinary garden. The bees were installed by executive chef J.W. Foster in partnership with Marshall’s Farm and there are about 200,000 honey bees now in the hives. The honey they provide is used in salad dressings, pastries, ice cream, cocktails and as part of the hotel’s afternoon tea service.
Other Fairmonts with beehives include the Fairmont Dallas, The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto and The Fairmont Yangcheng Lake in Kunshan, China.
Brian Linke and Terry Oxford of UrbanBeeSF, who keep hives at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland as well as Quince/Cotogna, Nopa, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Mission Beach Cafe, all in San Francisco, note that bees require observation and close management.
For instance, too many hives in the same area will lead to food shortages. Meanwhile, swarming is a natural part of the bee life cycle, but it doesn’t work well in an urban setting. So responsible keepers have to deter swarming activity. Also problematic is the hobbyist who starts a hive, then abandons it.
Still, overall Linke is glad to see the uptick of interest in bees.
“What we have found is through the attention that we’re getting on this we’re able to fulfill the secondary goal about all this, which is to educate people with what’s going on with the bees,” he said.