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In 1941, John P. Kallas started Kallas Honey Farm, a local business that will soon turn 75.
The company launched in the Kallas’ Glendale home and later moved to a larger facility, also in Glendale. In 1999, Kallas Honey moved to its current facility at 5500 W. Douglas Ave.
Today, the company is run by John Kallas' grandsons, Perry and Peter Kallas.
"My grandfather was more of a beekeeper than a businessman," says Perry Kallas. "However, when my dad got out of the service, he needed a career and so they really developed the company at that time."
Kallas Honey is a small operation, with only five employees, including Perry and Peter. "We all wear a lot of hats," he says.
Originally, Kallas Honey made the honey with company-raised bees. At one time, Kallas had 1,200 bee colonies – a small number compared to the 50,000-70,000 colonies that most commercial beekeepers have today.
In 1972, John Kallas retired and the company discontinued beekeeping.
"Beekeeping is a lifestyle, you have to be committed to it," says Kallas.
These days, the life of a commercial beekeeper is similar to a migrant worker. Most move with the warm weather so the queens continue to lay eggs.
After Kallas quit the bees, it began to purchase honey from other beekeepers and bottle / package / supply it instead.
The majority of Kallas honey is sold to other businesses as an ingredient for sauces, mustards, pretzels, salad dressings, pizza crusts, hams, nuts, ice cream, beer and dairy, primarily yogurt.
"Pretty much every aisle in the grocery store has a product made with honey," says Kallas.
Kallas honey is available in many local grocery stores including some Pick ’N Saves, Sendik’s, Grasch Foods, Outpost Natural Foods, Glorioso’s Italian Food Market, Groppi’s Food Market and others.
Kallas supplies honey to Colectivo Coffee Roasters, Miller Brewing Company, Minhas Distillery, Lakefront Brewery, Tyranena Brewing Company, Usinger's and many local restaurants.
"Peg (Magister) at Crazy Water insists on Kallas honey," says Kallas.
Kallas collaborates with other companies and makes a barbecue sauce, maple syrup, granola and mustard.
For Kallas, buying quality honey is the most important aspect of the business because in the end, the customer’s opinion is all that’s relevant.
"The quality of honey you get in January is going to be the same in June," he says. "When you squeeze that honey bear onto your biscuits or pancakes we want you to have a great experience every time."
All of Kallas’ honey suppliers are in the United States and many are located in Wisconsin.
"We’re spoiled here in Wisconsin," says Kallas. "Our soil conditions, plants and Great Lakes make us able to make some really nice, flavorful honey."
Because of the company’s commitment to buying local honey, Kallas' prices tend to be higher than those of larger commercial brands.
"If folks are concerned about the quality and integrity of the honey and are looking for a good, reliable source and are able to spend a little more that’s where we fit in really nicely," says Kallas. "We specialize in small orders. We’ve carved out our niche."
Kallas does not use any filtering agents or additives in its honey.
"It’s what we don’t do that makes us different from other companies," says Kallas. "Larger companies might pack the honey in October and it might not be in the grocery store until February, so it has to be processed a lot more heavily to ensure it’s still in liquid state when it hits the shelves. Our honey is always fresh, so we don’t have to worry about that."
Kallas’ most popular honey is the white / clover honey – 99 percent of which is from Wisconsin. The company offers seven other honeys, including orange blossom, cranberry blossom, blueberry, sunflower, alfalfa, wildflower and buckwheat. Kallas also offers natural, raw honey.
A lot has been written about the homeopathic properties of honey, which has contributed to a boost in sales. Because honey has antimicrobial properties, many people – as well as physicians – have used it for relief from allergies, hay fever, athlete’s foot, facial scrubs, salves and even on deep puncture wounds.
"I’m not going to suggest if you step on a rusty nail you should take your honey bear and squirt some in there, but there are folks doing that," says Kallas.
Kallas strives to educate people about honey to clear up misconceptions.
"Despite what some people say, honey is not bee poop," says Kallas. "Honey comes back up the same way it goes in. It’s not digested by bees, rather it’s stored in a separate stomach. But it’s not bee poop. Bee poop is really quite gross."
For 75 years, the Kallas family has been in the honey business and, consequently, spent time around a lot of bee colonies. Surprisingly, not one member has a tragic sting story.
However, there is one bee-related family story that Kallas refers to as "peculiar."
After his grandfather retired in 1972, he spent many warm afternoons sitting on the porch of his Glendale home, drinking lemonade and watching the honeybees that chose to live in a corner of his home under the siding.
"Of all the places in the world for a swarm of honeybees to live, they picked the home of a retired beekeeper," says Kallas. "And there was no way anyone was going to mess with that swarm. It was grandpa’s swarm. Next question."
Because the house had a southeast exposure and was dark in color, it offered the warmth under the siding needed for successful, year-round hive making. And so, bees lived there for many years, even after Kallas’ grandfather passed away.
One day, while helping his grandmother with household chores, Kallas noticed a spot on the rug. He didn’t think much of it. But then next time, he noticed the spot on the rug had grown larger. Finally, he realized honey was dripping from the ceiling.
His grandmother told him not to worry about it, and so he let it go until he received a call from his grandmother saying a portion of her ceiling had collapsed.
"A pizza-sized chunk of ceiling had crashed to the ground from the weight of the honey behind the walls," he says.
Kallas went on to clean massive honeycombs filled with honey that were behind the walls and ceiling. He repainted and sealed every inch and yet, to this day, bees still smell honey and buzz around the corner of the house.
"Grandpa’s bees live on," he says.
The future of Kallas honey is uncertain. Both of the Kallas brothers have children, but they are still young and whether or not they will take over the family business is undetermined.
"To get a business from third to fourth generation is complicated," says Kallas. "But this is definitely more than a business for my family. It’s our life. If you cut me, I bleed honey."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.