Jacobsen Salt’s Ben Jacobsen and Bee Local’s Damian Magista are a special breed of entrepreneur: both believe the food system is flawed, and the answer is sitting in our own backyard. For Jacobsen, it’s salt, hauled and boiled out of coastal Oregon waters. For Magista, it’s honey, extracted from neighborhood hives all over Portland and the Willamette Valley.
Both homegrown companies started in 2011. Jacobsen Salt quickly reached escape velocity with celebrity chefs like New York’s April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig) peddling his flakey salt on The Tonight Show and a major national presence as boutique cookware store Williams-Sonoma’s salt darling. No other artisan brand is as ubiquitous on Portland shelves and in local restaurants than Jacobsen Salt. Meanwhile, as of November 2014, Magista was still collecting honey and hand-labeling each jar. Without the infrastructure and industry connections, Bee Local was on the verge of collapse.
In December, Jacobsen came to the rescue. He purchased Bee Local, keeping the name, brand, and message intact, while plugging the ailing company into Jacobsen’s artisan network. In short order, sales have grown 1000%, Magista tells Eat Beat.
Now, Bee Local looks poised to be Portland’s next great artisan product. Magista’s hive mind is working on new, honey-centric ideas and collaborations, with salted honey water Pok Pok vinegars, honey-infused local beer, and even Bee Local lozenges. Most critically, by the end of March, Bee Local will be glistening on the gilded shelves at Williams-Sonoma, Jacobsen Salt’s superhighway to national success.
No longer a one-man bee operation, Magista is finally spreading his sweet gospel. With increased demand, he’s added 100 new hives throughout Portland, the Willamette Valley, and Oregon Coast, and plans to set up apiary networks in Austin, Texas, New York City, and San Francisco by the end of 2015. “Our goal is to become the most trusted, transparent brand in America,” says Magista.
For now, it’s just Magista and Jacobsen shacking up together in Jacobsen Salt’s 8700 square-foot tasting room on Southeast Salmon. Is there space for another Portland artisan in the cavernous salt den? The next great chocolate or olive oil? For maniacal entrepreneurs like Jacobsen, the answer is undoubtedly “yes.”