Not many metro-area college students practice beekeeping. And among that, even fewer do so in the backyard of their downtown Charleston apartment, where hangouts, live music, and parties happen just feet from the bee boxes. However, this juxtaposition established the tone that now drives Liam Becker and John Berdux, co-founders of Apis Mercantile: They’re youthful, innovative, and embrace the fun that comes with doing what they love—working with honey, hemp, and their community.
The two have been friends since childhood, growing up together in Richmond, Virginia, before becoming roommates at the College of Charleston. After graduation, they launched their own line of sustainably sourced honeys and hemp products.
They first became interested in beekeeping in college. Berdux worked at a honey company and decided to try his hand at some backyard beekeeping. He researched and tapped the apiarists he met through work.
After a disgruntled delivery driver arrived with Berdux’s order of honey bees and a queen, the students set up the hives in their backyard, and before long, they had 80,000 bees (plus a magnificent backyard garden bursting with fresh vegetables and abundant herbs).
“I like to say we were pollinating all of downtown Charleston from our backyard,” Becker laughs.
Their beekeeping stopped after graduation, but their interest in honey and entrepreneurial spirit continued. After a few years, they reconnected with a former roommate who was growing hemp in Colorado. He told the pair about the booming industry, which got them thinking—what if they could fuse the beneficial properties of hemp with honey?
The Creation of Apis Mercantile
Between the three men, they had the honey contacts, the administrative savvy (Becker already began a surfboard company), and the knowledge of the hemp industry that they needed to pursue their idea. They got to work on their first product for Apis Mercantile, a hemp oil honey, which infused raw honey with the CBD extract that occurs naturally in hemp.
Finding a market for hemp products in the Southeast was already a gamble, but the biggest challenge? The production and sale of Apis Mercantile’s products began before South Carolina established any guidelines permitting the creation of hemp-infused foods within the state.
Becker and Berdux initially traveled to Colorado to experiment with recipes. “We failed tons of times figuring out how to properly infuse our honeys before we got it right,” Becker says. They stayed in Colorado to produce and bottle the honey before shipping it home to South Carolina.
This pattern of traveling across the country and shipping products home continued. Throughout it, however, Becker and Berdux worked closely with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to help establish state guidelines for the production of hemp-infused food and beverage products. “People called us pioneers,” Becker says, and in 2019, the state legalized hemp-food production.
Today, Apis Mercantile operates out of the Charleston area. Its two lines feature honey products and hemp products (hemp honey included). While artisanal honey can be found easily in farmers markets and health food stores everywhere, Becker believes that their commitment to working directly with small, sustainable beekeepers (as opposed to larger honey conglomerates) sets their brand apart.
Their model ensures that a bigger portion of sales goes directly back to the people producing the honey. By working closely with apiarists in the Lowcountry, Florida, New Hampshire, and out West, they’re able to guarantee the product’s quality.
A Business Beyond the Honey
Additionally, another pillar of Apis Mercantile that distinguishes their brand is the group’s community involvement. They actively support regional organizations, including Warrior Surf Foundation, Surfers Healing, Lowcountry Local First, The Green Heart Project, and Score Charleston. Their support goes beyond a page on their website and monetary donations—members of the crew regularly volunteer their time with these organizations.
“We say that all ships rise at high tide,” Becker says. “When you work together and everyone supports one another is when you rise.”