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Hotel takes rooftop gardens a step further with beekeeping

Marriottbees 2 Few chefs rave about having bugs in their business. But Myk Banas, the executive chef and director of food and beverage operations at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, dotes on the hotel’s rooftop hives of honey bees.

“Getting honey from your roof is about as localvore as you can get,” said Banas. “Ninety-five percent of what we serve – from curing bacon to pastas – is made here. It wasn’t that much of a stretch to get into making honey.”

The project started in early 2009 as part of an experiment by Banas and the hotel’s management to expand on their in-house herb garden. Their goal: to grow their local food production, have access to fresh honey and, perhaps, boost the population of pollinating bees in the Windy City.

After speaking with city officials, Banas said he learned that Chicago had no specific ordinances that prevented beekeeping projects from being set up.

(Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has been a proponent for “greening” Chicago, seems to have a fondness for such projects: Hives of Italian honeybees have been housed in a corner of City Hall’s rooftop garden for years.)

So last spring, the hotel brought in a beekeeper and set up two hives on an empty stretch of the ninth floor.

By the time winter arrived, Banas and his staff had 205 pounds of honey to use in pastries, meat glazes and other edible products, including their Rooftop Honey Wheat beer. Some of the sweet – and pricey – stuff is even bottled and sold: Two ounces goes for $5 a bottle.

This year, Banas said they’ve doubled the number of hives – and currently have about 100,000 honey bees up and buzzing.

And what about the stinging ouch-factor of dealing with bees? Banas said it's not really a problem. "Honestly, a far bigger concern is to protect the hives from the cold when winter arrives," Banas said.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Staff check on a rooftop hive at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile hotel. Credit: Marriott/Empower PR

 
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