Pot Luck

Bee Rustlers Steal Haven's Hives

Thanks to Eater's long-running "Shit People Steal" series, it's possible to think that you've heard it all when it comes to the bizarre items that people steal from restaurants. Not so: Sunday's news that Haven's bee hives were stolen from outside the restaurant was a new low.

Chef Randy Evans first discovered that his beehives were missing while checking on the garden behind Haven on Saturday morning. Haven's hives were only installed last May, but Evans had already become very attached to the bees that were providing honey for his restaurant. At first, he only thought the hives had been moved. But as Evans searched the property, panicking, it became apparent that the hives had been hijacked -- by professional bee rustlers.

Evans turned to the video cameras stationed outside Haven and reviewed the footage from the night before. He found the bee rustlers on tape at 5:54 a.m. Saturday morning.

"You can see them back straight up to the bee hive, turn off their lights, get out, grab the beehive, get back in, turn on their lights...in two minutes," Evans said. "The truck had a camper cover on the back so they could put the bees in, shut it and they wouldn't fly out. And they took every single bee."

Said Evans: "They knew exactly what they were doing."

Bee rustlers have been an expensive problem for beekeepers in countries like Britain and New Zealand, where secondhand hives can sell for $300 each on the black market. But until recently, there has been relatively little news of bee rustling in the U.S.

In other countries, bee rustlers are professionals who have elaborate set-ups for storing and selling the bees and hives they steal. The situation at Haven could signal the beginnings of such an operation in Houston.

"Someone that does bees stole these bees," said Evans. "You have to know bees. You don't just come up and take bees. This person knew to come at night, when it was raining and cold. The bees are the most docile and the most stationary at that time."

The rustlers seem to have been casing Haven ahead of time too, too: Their truck came through Twin Peaks' parking lot instead of Haven's, as the latter chains its main entrance off at night. But because it was parked too far away from Haven's cameras -- and because it was rainy that night -- the footage wasn't able to capture the model of truck or even its license plate number.

An article from the New York Times last summer told of a rash of bee thefts in California, where the rustlers stole more than 400 hives, which were valued at nearly $100,000. But for Evans, the worst part about losing Haven's bees isn't the money he lost; it's the food. He and his beekeeper, Shelley Rice, had just started the bees on Thai basil to create a special product just for the restaurant. Now that the hives has vanished, they'll never know what their bees created.

Said a sad Evans: "I never got to taste the honey out of it."

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Katharine Shilcutt