Stephen Sandve of Vancouver is a creative entrepreneur with a passion for producing local honey and keeping bees safe and well. Keeping up with the bee bizz wasn’t always part of Stephen’s plan, but after observing a hive, things started to change.
Now, the Vancouver businessman has his own beehive and makes raw, urban multi-floral honey. The yummy stuff is unlike anything you can get at the grocery store – it’s chemical free, gently filtered, never heated and tastes nothing like the honey most of us know.
As EastVan Bees grows, so does Stephen. In 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer and has had to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. Now, he is even more passionate about supporting his community of bees, enjoying the west coast, spending time with his family and helping the environment.
Read more about Stephen and EastVan Bees now:
- Tell me how EastVan Bees began!
I was at a Car Free Day event in Vancouver and someone had a booth set up with an observation hive full of bees. I was intrigued and ended up taking a few workshops right after that. I read everything I could and then the next year took the leap and got my own beehive. By the end of the year I had three, and from that it just expanded as the passion for beekeeping took over.
- Do you remember the first time you tried honey? Tell me about that initial experience for you…
I don’t remember the first time I tried honey as a child but I do remember we always had creamed clover honey in the house. I do remember the first time I tried my own honey and was blown away with the complex flavours and smell of the multifloral sweetness. It was like nothing I had tasted before, completely different from the honey I had bought in the grocery store. It was like I could taste all the flowers in the neighborhood.
- What was your first job? How has this job helped you become who you are today?
I think my very first job was a paperboy as a young kid, probably about 10-years-old. I learned quickly the value of being organized and hard work and the importance of money. I was so excited to be earning my own money that I ironed every bill I got before taking it to the bank for deposit.
Did you always think you would start your own business?
My Mom would tell you I’ve been an entrepreneur from day one. I set up my first “business” growing and selling produce out of my back yard to a local market when I was about 14-years-old. I’ve really always been a doer and a maker. In my late teens I started and ran a successful music promotion company, bringing bands from across the globe to play shows in Victoria. I worked with a collective to have local bands release their music on our record label. I went from there to open a small skateboard shop in East Van expanding to three locations across the lower mainland and was instrumental in the formation of the skateboard scene by holding events that are still legendary in the city. I love creating and doing new things and sometimes it evolves into a business.
- How many people work for EastVan Bees?
Right now it just me, my wife and sometimes we get assistance from friends. Next season we possibly will be looking for interns to help.
- Your brand is proud of supporting local, bringing communities together – why is this so important to you?
A sense of community is what makes us feel connected to those around us. It’s what makes life liveable. Without a community we don’t have belonging, and we are lonely in our endeavours with no one to share our stoke. I cannot imagine being isolated without the support of either the community where you live or the community of makers and creators. We are involved in community gardens where we keep our bees. It is an amazing way to meet people from outside of your bubble and learn new things. You would never believe how much bees can bring people together. I lived in my neighbourhood for years and after we got bees we met so many people in the hood and it was totally because of their interest in bees (and honey of course).
- Not only does EastVan Bees produce delicious honey, but it also supports helping and improving the environment and ultimately keeping bees alive and well! How can we do our part to improve life for bees on earth?
There are many ways to help out bees in your neighbourhood. You can plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard. Also, weeds can be a good thing. You can leave dandelions for the bees as this is an important early season food for them. Definitely don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or gardens as these are detrimental to bees’ health. When it’s hot out bees, get thirsty so leaving a basin of water outside with rocks in it so the bees don’t drown is helpful to them. And of course buy local raw honey!
- EastVan Bees gets various neighbourhoods involved in making your honey! Every honey has a different “flavour-hood” (love this term). Where did this concept originate?
After harvesting the honey from East Van Bees two original locations and tasting other local beekeepers honey it was apparent to me that there were very different flavours of honey depending on what neighbourhoods they were coming from. My wordsmith friend, Rocket Rod, coined the phrase flavour-hoods after trying several local honeys with me.
- Homemade food is all the rage – what advice do you have for other local food businesses hoping for their big break?
Food production is one of those things that you must jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops for. My advice would be to do your research first and find out about health regulations and labeling requirements. But don’t give up because your original idea and plan might have to take a few turns and twists before you make it work. Also don’t call yourself a “startup.” That term has been overused and means nothing. All new businesses are startups!
- What do you hope people learn from your EastVan Bees brand?
I hope they learn that honey is amazing and that there is more to it than the bland commercial varieties that are available at the grocery stores. I also hope they learn that it takes a lot of work to get that honey from the hive to your table.
Where can we get this yummy honey?!
I sell at various markets in the Vancouver area and there are some retail outlets that have started to carry the brand. For details check out eastvanbees.com.
- What has been the most challenging part of owning and operating EastVan Bees?
The most challenging part of the biz has to be the bureaucracy of selling food. I have run businesses before and nothing compares to the red tape that [business in] the food industry has to go through.
- What has been the most rewarding aspect?
Tending bees and learning more and more every year about them is rewarding beyond belief. They are my girls, all millions and millions of them. I go to sleep thinking about bees and the first thing I think about in the morning is bees (don’t tell my wife)!
- What do you do when you’re not running EastVan Bees?
I love spending time with my family, camping, fishing, road tripping in my Westfalia and skateboarding (not so much lately because of the bees).
- Everyone has good days and bad at work – how do you deal with the stress of a bad day?
For me every day is a good day even if it sucks. After being diagnosed with cancer last year and going through chemo and radiation treatment, I came to realize that life is short and energy wasted on feeling negative is just that, wasted energy. I usually step back and look at what it is that makes the day bad and most of the time I can see it is really trivial or something that I cannot control or change.
- What continues to motivate you to find success?
Success is relative. For some people its financial and some its happiness in what they do. I think I fall into the latter category. I will never make tons of money keeping bees the way I do unless I change and become more like a commercial beekeeper. For me I find success in enjoying what I do and creating awareness around bees and their importance to the world
- Anything else to add?
Follow EastVan Bees on Instagram to check out every sweet moment!