November 16, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Portland business
is a honey of an idea

If you're a fan of the gooey natural sweetener, you'll think Phil and Meghan Gaven's new store is the bee's knees.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Co-owner Phil Gaven explains how The Honey Exchange’s in-store hive works to Helen Kane of Sanford.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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At the honey bar, customers can sample some of the many varieties for sale at the store.

Additional Photos Below


WHERE: 494 Stevens Ave., Portland

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

INFO: 773-9333;



The Gavens often set out samples of this cake for their customers to try.

"I make it with a different honey every time," Phil Gaven said, "and it really shows off the flavor of that honey."

16 ounces (1.25 pounds) honey

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk or sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

¾ cup white sugar

3¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 convection)

Blend 1½ cups honey, oil, buttermilk and vanilla with a blender or electric mixer.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add honey mixture to eggs and whisk.

Combine dry ingredients and add to liquid. Beat until well blended.

Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let pan rest for a few minutes, then flip cake over onto a wire rack.

While cake still warm, prick all over with a fork and drizzle the remaining honey over it -- let cool completely before slicing.

"Bees are just flying out to find what they need," he said, "so you have people keeping bees on terraces in Manhattan and Paris. So I thought, 'We've got this little plot in South Portland, we can have bees too.' "

After he read a long article in the New Yorker about the honey bee crisis, he decided to take the plunge. The couple now has two hives.

"Very few people just get a little into bees," Gaven said. "Usually, you go bee nerdy really fast."

But a honey store? Can that really work year round?

Well, the Gavens sell more than just honey. They have a gift store stocked with everything from bee umbrellas for children to bumper stickers with the message "Give Bees a Chance." They stock a wide variety of meads as well as braggot ("where beer meets mead") from Denmark, and a honey ale from Bar Harbor. There's also a selection of honeybee-friendly bulbs to plant for next spring, when they'll have actual bees for sale.

Even the music in the store is bee-friendly, with selections including Van Morrison singing "Tupelo Honey."

The Gavens also spend time visiting schools, talking to students about bees and local food. They sell beekeeping equipment and make themselves available to wannabe beekeepers for information and advice on how to get started.

"People who think they want to be beekeepers are wandering in," Meghan Gaven said, "because there's really not a location where you can kick tires if you're interested and talk to somebody that's knowledgeable and patient and has tried and succeeded right in the middle of Portland."

There's been a surprising amount of interest, she said. Turns out, when it comes to raising food at home, bees are the new chickens.

In the middle of the store is a working demonstration hive where customers can watch the bees doing their thing. This hive was started late in the beekeeping year, in August. The bees have access to the outdoors so they can fly away in search of nectar and pollen.

"We've given them a little bit of sugar syrup to feed, but mostly this is Deering Center honey that they've collected," Phil Gaven said. "You can see it's still nectar that's being cured. It's still shiny. When it's done, they cover it with wax and save it for themselves.

"Things have already stopped blooming, so they know they've got a long way until that first bloom in April. So that's what they'll eat for the whole winter."

Lucky bees.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Phil and Meghan Gaven sell lots of items besides honey at The Honey Exchange.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The Honey Exchange is located at 494 Stevens Ave. in Portland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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