Bee Tavern in Middletown now soul food restaurant

The Times Herald Record examines local businesses to see how they fared during the pandemic. While some business owners have had their share of an uphill battle, for many things have gotten back on track.

The opportunity to stroll around the Bee Tavern, 26 Center St., Middletown, and speak to owner Shana Bee, was an opportunity to see firsthand what is going on at this location, which first opened in October 2018 but emerged from it with a new focus.

Since it’s about honey – from their drinks to their cornbread and more – it stays sweet at the Bee Tavern.

Shana Bee recently stood for a portrait at her restaurant, The Bee Tavern in Middletown.  The bee has had some tough months but has gotten away with a new focus.

Q: What tests did you have to face to navigate the pandemic and get business back on track?

ON: First with COVID – I had COVID. I was on a ventilator with COVID, I had a lot to recover and we were closed for 11 months I believe, and partly because I needed to recover. We actually didn’t know if we would open again because my recovery was a lot. That was the personal problem.

And on the business issue: we went broke, we were closed. Bills still had to be paid, we didn’t get any loans and it was really hard to find your way around. But you know we prayed for this and just found out and decided to reopen as a restaurant. Here we are now, and so far it’s been so good. Everything is moving forward and I am very grateful. I know a lot of people didn’t have this chance or opportunity so I am very grateful for that.

Q: Has anything changed since you reopened since you first opened your doors to the public?

ON: Oh yeah! Certainly. Well, in the beginning we opened as a bar lounge, with more honey-infused cocktails and foods, and we’ve done well with that. But during the pandemic we had to revise things and come back stronger, so we decided to become a restaurant. So we switched from a bar lounge and honey cocktail theme to a soul food restaurant.

Now we’re a family friendly restaurant too – we have kids, we have grandmas so it has definitely changed since we opened! However, it has changed for the better. We offer more to the community, we also offer a place of pride. We are a black owned company and serve soul food – we are known for that and we like to give that to our community.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a black entrepreneur in 2021?

ON: A sense of pride. I am very happy with what I am doing. We have been owned by companies since 2009 – we have beauty salons, nail salons, we also have another bar, and we own a barbershop – we have various services and are still doing it. Many cannot say that. We face so many adversities as entrepreneurs, and while we are a black entrepreneur, it’s even more difficult because obviously there aren’t many of us here. We are the minority compared to others and that gives my children, my grandson … you know, a sense of pride too. It’s something that they and everyone else I don’t see can go for, and I appreciate holding on to it, I do.

Chef Keith Bryant fries salmon in the Bee Tavern.  The website started as a bar lounge with honey-infused cocktails and has turned into a soul food restaurant.

Q: What should customers of the Bee Tavern look forward to?

ON: We are definitely rebuilding. We’re still renovating because as I said, we made the transition to a restaurant so we wanted to look more like a restaurant. The menu is getting bigger and better, we’re going to add more seating to some of the interior, and we may look for more locations as well. It’s a work in progress depending on how well business is going. Business is doing very well so far and we definitely see expansion in the future!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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