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Talk Sweet To Me: ‘Gift Of Gab’ Leads Entrepreneur To Beekeeping

Thad Smith, owner and proprietor of Westside Bee Boyz in Chicago, IL, jumped off the screen when Garden & Health reached him via Zoom to discuss his business. 

Quite literally, Smith can’t sit still, and his energy is infectious as he bobs and weaves in and out of the frame while describing his journey from military man to ex-con to serial entrepreneur who has worked “every job” to being the Windy City’s resident old school, independent apiarist.

Photo Courtesy Thad Smith 

When asked how he became interested in beekeeping, Smith references his “gift for gab” for the first of many times and describes how he got to where he is today, which started with a very simple need: money.

“So, money … getting money … there is a reason I mentioned that,” he laughs before explaining that he made and lost a lot of money via infomercial businesses in the 1990s. “This is before the internet, dude!” 

The experience further fed his love of entrepreneurship and truly taught him that he wanted to be his own boss. “I hate working for other people,” he continued. “I hate it with a passion!”

One of these business ventures failed, which put Smith on his heels and, eventually, on the street. But he is never, ever one to give up.

Photo Courtesy Thad Smith 

The other two traits one will quickly learn that Smith has in spades are his determination and direct honesty. He demonstrates both in how he picked himself up from a life on the street by selling newspapers every morning on the corner in Chicago.

“Every day [at] 5 o’clock, bro, I was on my corner trying to make money,” Smith said. 

He would end up beginning his beekeeping journey through a chance class sign-up via a nonprofit he’d heard of, although he doesn’t care for nonprofits and doesn’t mind telling anyone just that. As chance would have it, Smith says he lucked into finding a nonprofit that “did do something,” and a class through the North Lawndale Employment Network followed.

Photo Courtesy Westside Bee Boyz

Again referencing his “gift for gab,” Smith describes how he became president of his class in only 30 days and then took a job with an affiliated company called Sweet Beginnings, which introduced him to beekeeping.

Like with most things, Smith makes a “bee” line to whatever he is passionate about and throws himself in full-bore. With this determination came a rapid ascent while at this new company.

Photo Courtesy Westside Bee Boyz

“Yeah, so now I’m doing bee work. I’m doing an extraction. I’m doing it all, bro. I’m running 75 hives. I’ve only been there more than 90 days, and I’m doing 75 gives, bro,” Smith said.

“Like, so that was a three-month program. So, now they hired me to be the first official apprentice beekeeper that they’ve ever hired before!”

A falling out between a mentor at Sweet Beginnings and Smith spurred him to start his own beekeeping operation, and Westside Bee Boyz was born in 2014.

Westside Bee Boyz serves the Chicago area at local farmers’ markets and online. However, one gets the sense that the thing that truly motivates Smith is not just keeping and selling bees and honey but sharing the knowledge he has gleaned over the years with other people around him. His “gift of gab” is useful in this regard, and he speaks passionately about the future of his business and the natural world.

Photo Courtesy Westside Bee Boyz, LLC

“You can teach a monkey to be a beekeeper; the beekeeping parts, the easy part, it just really is not very difficult,” Smith said, laughing. “If you’re very passionate about it. It’s not difficult at all.”

“It’s time-consuming. It’s hard. It’s really very labor-inducing work. It will make you sweat,” he continued. “The thing that I’m looking at is in the bigger reaches; I want to be able to go into classrooms and teach my ultimate goal … bro, before I die, I’m trying to put this in somebody’s ear, dude, I want to do a TED talk about this stuff.”

After just a few minutes spent with him, it’s pretty easy to imagine that Westside Bee Boyz’s own Smith might soon be on a stage giving the best TED talk of the year about his passion: honey bees.

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