If you want to go out for a cup of tea or coffee with a friend, heading to your local apiary might not be the first thing to cross your mind. Paradis Valley Honey is working to change that with the opening of their new Valley Bee Café.
On any given morning in the sleepy valley of Watino, the café is a cozy hive of activity. A group of women might laugh and chat as they learn how to keep a regular journal using journals handmade locally out of fabric by the workshop leader, while two friends catch up over coffee at the counter looking into the honey extraction room, and the friendly barista steams milk for a signature Watino Fog surrounded by vibrant original paintings of butterflies and flowers by a local artist.
This hub of activity is the realization of a vision for Ginette Paradis, who with her husband Danny came up with the idea as a way to expand their brand and add to their farm-gate experience by combining their existing operations with more agri-tourism.
“We were inspired by Alberta open farm days,” Paradis says. “We participated for the first time last season, and we had an overwhelming response. We had over 80 people, even people who travelled here from out of the province. From that we realized there is an interest in what we do, so we thought if we got that kind of response from a random farm tour, why not give people more reasons to come here.”
The new café only opened this February but is already a growing success.
“We have people visiting our farm-gate every day which is a great improvement for us,” Paradis says. “The Watino valley is so lovely that it’s easy for people to come, but it gives people a reason to come and explore the bee-keeping world.”
The café’s coffee is provided by the Black Rifle Company, which supports veteran causes. The tea is from Tealife in Calgary, and gluten-free allergy-safe treats from Gracie’s Pantry in Girouxville round out the menu.
“I have an allergy and I know what it’s like to go out and not be able to have a snack, so we cater to that,” Paradis says. “It’s really cool to connect with other Alberta entrepreneurs and we’re learning that doing business together is better.”
The café also includes a large window into the honey extraction room, turning it from a normal coffee shop into an educational experience.
While the honey season doesn’t truly kick off until the snow melts and early floral sources such as dandelions and willows are available for the bees, Paradis says something is always happening year-round.
For instance, the hibernation building is now active while beekeepers assess the hives and see how they fared over the winter.
“As far as honey production and honey harvest, our key months are July and August, and with the observation window installed in the cafe it gives people a really cool way to look in on what we do here,” Paradis says. “Some people want to avoid being exposed to the bees so they have never had the opportunity to see it, and now they can watch from a safe distance.”
Besides bringing people together over Paradis Valley honey, the cafe is also already serving as a venue for a number of community events. The cafe hosts a running club on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and in April will feature a book signing of Annette Erickson’s memoir In Search of Oneness, as well as two different photography courses with Lynn Connell and a tea party for seniors. Paradis says she offers the space free of charge, because she wants to encourage the community to use it for events.
“There’s so much unused skill, talent and gifts in this area. Our cafe gives people the opportunity to share them,” she says. “It’s just about building community connections, making time to visit and nurture friendships and conversations.”
However, the new café is also just the beginning for Paradis.
“This is the first phase of our agri-tourism expansion,” Paradis says. “Our tours are going to be the next highlight. People will have different options for tours. There will be facility tours, and our most exciting tour is called the Original Beekeeping Experience, and that will allow people to come and suit up and actually explore the live hives.”
For now, Paradis is excited to see how the space can continue to serve the community.
“A good coffee makes everything more bearable,” she laughs.