Teen en­trepreneurs find sweet suc­cess in honey busi­ness

South Florida Times - - BUSINESS - Teen en­trepreneurs man­age their honey busi­ness By RYAN GILLE­SPIE Or­lando Sentinel

OR­LANDO, Fla. (AP) At the first Par­ramore Farmer's Mar­ket, Christo­pher Thornton,17, couldn't be­lieve how many cus­tomers were buy­ing up jars of honey sold un­der a busi­ness he helped cre­ate.

By day's end, Black Bee Honey, run by teenagers at the city's Par­ramore Kidz Zone, had sold out of all four va­ri­eties of its sweet stuff and banked more than $2,000.

“(At first) I didn't think honey would sell,” said Christo­pher, a ju­nior at Oak Ridge High School.

But the more he thought about it, he re­al­ized it would sell be­cause “there's no Publix, there's no Wal-Mart, there's no fresh food” in the neigh­bor­hood.

In the first seven weeks of the Par­ramore mar­ket out­side Or­lando City Sta­dium, $13 jars of Black Bee Honey have proven to be the best-sell­ing prod­uct.

Af­ter their first wind­fall, the team of about 20 has av­er­aged about $1,000 in sales each week and rou­tinely sell out. The money is used to cover ex­penses, pay the teens min­i­mum wage and sup­port the Par­ramore Kidz Zone, a pro­gram run by the city to help youths in the low-in­come neigh­bor­hood.

Grow­ing up in Par­ramore, Or­lando's high­est poverty neigh­bor­hood, the chil­dren knew the need for healthy nat­u­ral foods. Now as teens, they're work­ing to pro­vide a nu­tri­tious re­place­ment for sug­ars and ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers in the com­mu­nity that has been la­beled a “food desert.”

“Right now in our com­mu­nity, all that sells is fast food,” said Jor­dan Jones, a ju­nior at Jones High School. “We wanted to sell food that's nat­u­ral and healthy.”

And they're quick to rat­tle off the health ben­e­fits of each va­ri­ety: Pal­metto blend helps pre­vent prostate can­cer, gall­berry kills off bac­te­ria, or­ange blos­som re­duces risk of chronic ill­ness and wild­flower wards off al­ler­gies. When Regi­nald Burroughs, the pro­gram's di­rec­tor of youth em­ploy­ment, came up with the idea for the col­lege­bound teens to start the busi­ness, many of the youths were ex­cited to test their skills.

They now hold three busi­ness meet­ings a week and also work on bud­get­ing, sales and mar­ket­ing.

Khris­tian Burke, 16, said the group set­tled on the Black Bee name be­cause it “di­rectly re­flects how we feel as African Amer­i­can men and women in this so­cial and po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment.”

On a re­cent Wed­nes­day, more than a dozen teens donned gloves and hair nets as they trans­ferred the thick honey from 5-gal­lon buck­ets to jars at the J.B. Cal­la­han Neigh­bor­hood Cen­ter near the soc­cer sta­dium. The honey is har­vested by Dadant & Sons in High Springs.

The city couldn't give a jarby-jar break­down of costs, but spokes­woman Jes­sica Gar­cia said the goal of the pro­gram is to break even.

City Com­mis­sioner Regina Hill, who rep­re­sents the neigh­bor­hood, said the kids are learn­ing to work as a team and have de­vel­oped skills she hopes will lead to suc­cess­ful ca­reers.

“They're ac­tu­ally run­ning a busi­ness,” said Hill, who fa­vors the pal­metto honey, which she puts in her tea and her grand­son's oat­meal.

Kidz Zone has been cred­ited with re­duc­ing teen preg­nan­cies and child abuse in the neigh­bor­hood, and over the past three years, ev­ery grad­u­at­ing se­nior in the pro­gram has gone to col­lege.

Christo­pher, who also plays foot­ball for Oak Ridge, hopes to at­tend col­lege to study com­puter en­gi­neer­ing and one day start his own busi­ness.

By par­tic­i­pat­ing in Black Bee Honey, he's learn­ing the play­book to get a head start.

“I feel like this is help­ing me build my busi­ness skills,” Christo­pher said. “Once I get bet­ter at it, I can start my own busi­ness when I get older, I'll ac­tu­ally know what I'm do­ing.”

And there are signs that their bur­geon­ing busi­ness could grow. With Or­lando City's Ma­jor League Soc­cer sea­son get­ting un­der­way, city of­fi­cials are hope­ful it will boost at­ten­dance at the mar­ket and bring new cus­tomers to the neigh­bor­hood. “My hope is that it might be the next Girl Scout Cook­ies,” Hill said.

The young en­trepreneurs want to see their honey on gro­cery store shelves and per­haps one day in a store of their own. “I know the more work I put in, the more money I make. I don't have guar­an­teed pay, so if I'm sit­ting at home talk­ing about it . I'm pro­mot­ing my busi­ness,” Christo­pher said. “:I know how we started from the bot­tom . we founded this busi­ness. All of us, as a team.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF WORK­ING WOMAN RE­PORT

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