Our Discovery Story
I am an American from Mexico. My story is the story of thousands of immigrants.
I don’t belong here; I don’t belong there. This question is always haunting me: how do I take the best of my worlds and create a story that is relevant to the world and makes sense of my experience?
Deeply spurred by an urgency to bridge the US and Mexico through business, I hit the pavement in my hometown of Guadalajara in search of partners for my electronics business. Everything was a possibility, but nothing was right.
Brooding over these dead ends, my wife and I went on vacation in Puerto Vallarta. My parents had recently moved home to Mexico into their dream house on the beach. They inspired me with their tenacity to never quit on their dreams, no matter the odds. They were the kind of immigrant that took their opportunities and made a better life for their kids, and now they finally fulfilled a dream for themselves. I was so happy for them. But I was also a recipient of their sacrifice, and felt an urgency to do something more with my life. Yes, I went to college, have a professional career, and established a business of my own, but there is always a sense of more.
My wife is an extraordinary home chef, and deeply engaged in the cuisine of Mexico—much to my delight. She was the one getting us up early to visit the fisherman and get the freshest catch; she was the one who asked everyone where to find the local markets of fresh produce; she was the one who spent vacation learning how to make local dishes from the ladies in the food stands.
Then, on our vacation in Puerto Vallarta, she wanted fresh, Mexican honey. Being a rich, tropical environment, there had to be amazing honey here, right? But sadly, most honey sold in Mexico, we discovered, was mixed with corn syrup, pasteurized, or otherwise industrialized. Que lastima! What a shame. My dad, the ultimate networker, started asking where we could find fresh honey. Finally, at last, we had a lead.
The directions were of those hazy, “big tree, go left” variety. “Go to Uzeta and go to the center of town. Find the big tree next to the plaza and go left. At the end of the street, there is a store. Ask for a man named Pablo.” Of course.
Skeptical, but up for adventure, we headed into the hills of Jalisco to find Pablo. We found him. He told us the history of beekeeping and honey in his home state of Jalisco. He no longer keeps bees because the tequila industry is planting so many agaves, there is not enough nectar--not a condemnation, just a fact of change. He told us stories of childhood here, of beekeeping, of faith.
We laughed and connected and enjoyed memories of growing up in Mexico.
It is not a standard vacation to spend your time driving around small towns in search of a random food ingredient, but we were now obsessed with tracking down the answer. Pablo sent us to another town an hour away to talk to another apiculturist who cultivates queens, so we went. It was another vague direction: go to the town off the free road, go to the center of town, find the big black gate, and knock. Luckily, with our scrappy little Honda and my gregarious dad, we could blend in enough to pull it off.
Señor Rodrigez was a gracious, if curious, host. He cultivated a wonderland of fruits in his two acres in the middle of the town. He further filled us in on the state of beekeeping in Jalisco: agave only blooms every 7 years. There’s just not enough nectar to sustain the colonies. That’s why he turned to breeding queens. He stared at my very white wife, wondering what she was doing in Mexico hunting for apiculturists. He quizzed us on our connections and affiliations. He tested us about our knowledge of “real” Mexico. After half a bottle of tequila and an afternoon, he divulged the name of an apiculturist finding some success in the neighboring state of Nayarit.
At this point, we had made two trips and hadn’t located a single jar of honey, so we thought about calling off the hunt. But now we were invested: can you actually find honey in Mexico? So, on our last day of vacation, we made one final trip in the opposite direction in search of the gold—literally liquid gold at this point.
Past mango and avocado orchards, sweeping beeches, coffee plants under canopies of mountains, and row upon row of sugarcane, we found Miguel in the dustiest little town north of Tepic (the capital of Nayarit.) He was an actual apiculturist, he actually had honey—and he was even more skeptical of what we were doing than our previous two contacts. But other than finding honey, and vague idea that had popped up to make mead with it, we were not sure either—so maybe that was fair.
Finally, after a bit of chatting and awkward explanations, he let us taste his honey. It was freshly harvested, still on the honeycomb, and it had come from the coast. He called it “mangle,” which wasn’t a word I even knew (but later discovered was the local word for “mangrove.”)
We found the holy grail.
My wife was practically in tears. The most delicious honey she had ever tasted, she said. Amazing, my dad said. Yep, tastes like I remember from childhood, I said.
We begged for some jars of this coastal honey, and also were able to obtain their “spring” honey—a dense, molasses-like honey that came from avocado and mango. We taped it shut with a hundred layers of duct tape and headed back to the US.
That urgency to “make something of your opportunities” never quits as a kid of immigrants. Every day you wake up wondering how to make use of all of the opportunities you have that those left behind never had, maybe never will. I somehow made it into college with a scholarship in a small town in Minnesota and then somehow made it to Portland, Oregon—also unlikely but with a lot less snow.
After college I had another amazing opportunity: job offers. It was the nineties, the economy was good, and I had graduated with an international business degree. But more than money, I wanted the chance to provide real value and connect with my work. I went to the dean of my college and talked through it with him; he suggested I meet a childhood friend of his in the international electronics business. Finally, I found something that seemed to meet my criteria. My first assignment? Sourcing a machine that turned ice cream into the shape of food. Strange, random, practically impossible, definitely international (I found it in Italy), and oddly defining—how to make something happen from nothing.
It was through this job that I eventually started my own international electronics company. Again, the opportunity was less about the product itself and more about the business—the ability to make something from nothing, to connect with customers, and to use cross-cultural skills to make something of value for everyone. But the old urgency never ceases, so I was always looking for the next thing.
You can predict where the arch of this story is going: a honey business. But did it make sense? What does honey have to do with electronics? Is there anything that special about the honey we found?
Next step: research. Buying honey from just about everywhere. The best Manuka honey. The finest acacia honey. The freshest local honey. All the top supermarket brands. Honey is ubiquitous, and it is especially abundant in our home state of Oregon. Honey is useful, medicinal, and pretty popular with the paleo movement . Honey is also getting a lot of attention in the media, from the colony collapse mystery to the scandals highlighted on Netflix’s Rotten. It felt like honey was oozing from every corner we looked.
At this point, I was not a person who even cared for honey, but the idea was tantalizing.
Something from nothing.
Why honey? Eventually I realized the answer was simple: there is no better metaphor for what I aimed to bring to the world. Honey is collected from the most elemental sources: the plants that grow in the earth. But not just any earth—the earth that I call my own, where my bones will ache to be buried and where I feel more myself than any place on earth. It is taking something beautiful, magical, precious, and sacred, and sharing it with the world. To do so requires honoring those that nurture it: most notably the bees, but also the apiculturists, workers, and artisans that make it possible. So, we decided to bring State Honey Curators to life.
The imperfect, thick, glass jars are handmade in Mexico City. The heavy, custom-colored lids are sourced from a small company in China. The pretty, gold-foiled labels are made in wine country in Oregon. The elements are important and highlight each other, making the total greater than the proverbial sum of the parts. And each have come from each opportunity that I have met in the quest to do something.
I don’t belong here, and I don’t belong there. Neither does the honey; it is another kind of immigrant. It is from Nayarit, but it is launched in the US where foodies and connoisseurs can buy and cherish it. It joins a movement to embrace foods sources previously undervalued. It aids the influence of the American Honey Tasting Society and the Italian L'Albo degli Esperti in Analisi Sensoriale del Miele to show that honey is sophisticated, nuanced, and meant to be paired with food like wine. It participates in the conversation of being present in the world. It is much the same as understanding how to be an immigrant—how to value, join, and participate in the new conversations, and at the same time, keep traditions alive.
ALL honey is special—it’s just the nature of it. We believe in our honey because of its roots but also because it is wonderfully delicious. Full stop. And wonderfully delicious things should be shared. As we have shared this honey from Nayarit, we have delighted in the way people light up when they taste it, discovering a taste and experience they never knew before. It opens the door to connection with them, and we can invite them into the story of the bees and the makers that make it possible.
Because of a chance and providential encounter, we found real, Mexican honey. More importantly, I was pointed down a path I had not dreamed of until that moment—how to celebrate the best of both of my worlds, connect them to value in the world, and serve as a bridge for both sides.
Honey is mysterious and magical and connected to place and to people, unlike few other things in the world.
Thanks to Pablo, we now know this, and we believe in it’s magic.
— Luis Alcala