Did you hear the buzz? CoNectar, a flora-to-table honey shop, is expected to take flight by August or September in Millvale.
Like worker bees, master beekeeper Christina Joy Neumann, along with her brother and sister-in-law Jon and Larissa Neumann, have been toiling away on the renovation project since mid-2019.
The 1,000-square-foot space at 411 Grant Ave. will feature a retail area, botanical art gallery, a bar and café seating. Customers can learn the mystery behind bees while enjoying drinks and small plates that complement the natural substance.
Built in the 1880s, the structure operated as a general store for generations but has required a lot of design strategy to bring it up to current code compliance. Until recently, the space was home to a diner called The Grub Hut. Christina Neumann says a friend humorously suggested renaming the place The Larvae Lounge.
All insect jokes aside, she finds the creatures fascinating.
In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 400 species of bees. To craft honey, Neumann works with Apis mellifera, or honey bees. Her apiary, Apoidea, maintains 60 to 100 producing colonies tucked away in remote locations throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area, including her family’s five-generation homestead in Cherry City. Each hive produces an average of 40 to 80 pounds of honey per year.
To Neumann, high-quality honey is not a condiment but a “liquid sunlight” treasure.
Because the laborious crafting process is not well-understood by the general public, CoNectar will be a place where people can compare different honey products to better appreciate seasonal, floral and geographical variations.
The company already offers virtual tastings and custom-made boxes for weddings, showers and corporate team-building events.
Even for a pro, the world of bees is complex.
“I need multiple lifetimes to understand them,” says Neumann, who recently completed an advanced honey sommelier course in Bologna, Italy, with the Albo Nazionale degli Esperti in Analisi Sensoriale del Miele. (Italian National Register of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey).
She studied architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where a lot of her education was based around environmental sustainability. After studying honey bee building techniques with The Biomimicry Institute in 2003, she became obsessed with the power of honey bees as food producers.
In terms of beekeeping experience, Neumann has worked as a commercial beekeeper at the Rare Hawaiian Organic Honey Co. in Hawaii. She is a Cornell University Certified Master Beekeeper and has maintained a Certified Naturally Grown Apiary here in Pittsburgh since 2017. Certified Naturally Grown is the closest certification to USDA Organic that an urban apiary can achieve.
Although you can learn a lot about bees in books and journals, the vast majority of a beekeeper’s education takes place in the field, where factors including climate, flora, invasive pests and pathogens impact the honey yield. She keeps close records of all of these factors and will share the information with CoNectar patrons each time they try a spoonful.
Neumann has been harvesting the golden liquid since 2006, selling at local specialty stores such as Una Biologicals and City Grows in Lawrenceville and at love, Pittsburgh locations. Eleventh Hour Brewing Co. and Hop Farm Brewing Company have used her honey in some of their beers.