A couple of years ago Savannah Bee sought a new kind of alcohol permit, one that had never been issued in the city of Savannah. Eventually, Savannah Bee obtained the new permit and the city's first mead tasting bar was opened. From opening day the Mead Bar at Savannah Bee was a huge success. In fact, it is so successful that we are opening our second mead tasting bar in our River Street store in Savannah. The in -store mead tasting bar is the combined brainchild of Savannah Bee founder, Ted Dennard and our Retail Director, Heather Donn. The following excerpts are from an interview conducted by bee blog team member Jonathan Lee. Enjoy and come taste some mead next time you are in Savannah!
Heather Donn: I joined the company in March 2012. When I came to Savannah Bee, one thing that was of great interest to Ted’s was to expand his products to include honey mead. He wanted to be able to sell and sample this delicious mead in our retail stores. I had come directly from Michigan where I managed a cherry wine tasting room that was within a retail store, so the concept to me was not unusual, but not here in Savannah. I asked him if I could be in charge of the project and go ahead with it. He was of course excited but said that they had in years prior gone down to the city to ask for a permit and was denied because they thought tasting wine in a gift shop was silly and the category on the permit did not even exist (yet). Well, I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I went down to City Hall and asked the woman in charge of the alcohol regulations and well .. she said no. I then came back to the office and was frustrated and emailed her boss. Her boss (in my favor was from Ohio) and was delighted to talk about Ohio and Michigan (ha ha), so he invited me to come meet with him. I spent an hour in his office explaining what I did in Michigan, how it worked, how it was regulated, and how much revenue it brought to the city. When I finished, he said the concept would be new to the city but he was excited to explore it further. I had my doubts, but I submitted the application for the permit anyway. We got our Attorney to write up a draft of what the new ordinance could look like for the city to include having this type of category (retail wine tasting with tasting allowed on premise), a new category because we were not a tasting room where every customer would be carded, we were a family shopping establishment. Ted and our Attorney wrote a letter explaining how we wanted to use the tasting to educate people about Mead and we sent the letter to each member on city council with an invitation to come see our store and how the tasting bar would work. Finally, it went up for review in front of City Council. By this time I think almost a year had gone by. Ted and I sat anxiously in the pew thinking we would have to all go up and speak in front of the council. They brought it up, all voted, and we were granted the permit! In my head, I was screaming for what felt like one of the biggest victories I have ever had and I was so ecstatic for Ted! It had finally happened! Another part of Ted's dream had come true. I’m still thankful for the great guy from Ohio who no longer works for the city but helped make Savannah Bee Company reach another important milestone.
It officially opened on Monday 8/26/13. We had a soft opening to make sure we were ready and in case there were any snags, we didn’t know what to expect. The response was amazing. Our customers felt like they stumbled upon this secret little place and mead was a whole new thing to them. We would say, “have you ever heard about Mead?” and they would say “Meat?” It’s really a whole new world to many people and you don’t even realize mead exists or how wonderful it is.
What’s the concept behind the construction/ design of the bar? Has it changed since the launch?
The concept and design of the bar developed from several sit down conversations between Ted and I. I researched pictures and thought about cool bars/wineries I had been to and what made them cool. I also thought about what makes us unique. One thing that makes our brand recognizable is the lighting behind the honey flutes, that glow, that wow effect. So I wanted to create that same effect with the mead bar. I wanted a hex shaped wall and found some photos online for inspiration. I wanted there to be lighting or some kind of reflection behind those hexes so together we decided on the mirror. We wanted a hex shaped bar, especially Ted, so we decided on the bar being made from reclaimed barn wood and bee boxes. It was to have dim lighting, cozy ambiance, with a special glow. Ted wanted it to have some old antiques and have the mead process to be featured like a museum exhibit. We still plan to do that as we gain space to work with and acquire the antiques.
How do you judge it’s success?
I feel like the success that we’ve had for 1.) selling Mead that does not have our label on it and 2.) with very little advertising we have done, response to the mead bar has been remarkable. From the start, Mead sales have been about 12% of total sales and steadily climbing. For the first quarter of 2015, Mead Sales are already up 35% from last year. I can’t even imagine what will happen when we go private label or develop our own mead with our ever so recognizable logo on it, when we ship it, and when we do more marketing with it. To see the success we have now by just getting our toes wet speaks of a bright, SWEET, future!
What are plans/hopes/ideas for the future of the mead bar?
We are expected to be opening our second Mead Bar on River Street roughly around late- June 2015. We are so excited to see what happens with that. We hope to continue opening new retail stores in the near future all having a Mead Bar in each store whenever possible. Ted plans to move into private label and then into making our own Mead right here in Savannah!