Career Path: From the seas to the bees, Navy vet turns beekeeper | Crain's Connecticut

Career Path: From the seas to the bees, Navy vet turns beekeeper

  • Nathan Sheets started with one beehive and now has a honey-making empire. | Photo courtesy of Nature Nate's

    Nathan Sheets started with one beehive and now has a honey-making empire. | Photo courtesy of Nature Nate's

  • Nathan Sheets started with one beehive and now has a honey-making empire. | Photo courtesy of Nature Nate's

    Nathan Sheets started with one beehive and now has a honey-making empire. | Photo courtesy of Nature Nate's

Nathan Sheets and his wife Patty wanted to find a hobby when they first married in 1996. So they bought their own beehive.

The advertising executive had always been interested in nature and said he found his true calling.

“I just absolutely fell in love with beekeeping,” Sheets said.

That hobby quickly turned into a full-time job when he left his job in December of 1997. And now McKinney-based Nature Nate’s raw, unfiltered honey is for sale in grocery stores and restaurants across the country. Sheets employs 135 people and is branching out into honey-based food products.

Getting started

I spent 10 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve, where I worked my way up to an E4 petty officer 3rd class signalman.

My time in the navy funded my college and taught me valuable lessons. I went on to own my own advertising agency.  At no point did I imagine insects and honey would become my career.

But that’s exactly what’s happened.

It all started with one beehive, a beekeeper suit and some spare time on the weekends. I bought the hive from a 75-year-old beekeeper, a relationship that would pay dividends later.

The bees produced more honey than we could eat, so I bottled some up for close friends and family. In 1998, I purchased the honey bottling business from the man who sold me my first hive. 

Getting bigger

The distribution business grew over the next 12 years to the point that by 2010, I bought the North Dallas Honey Company and we changed the company name to Nature Nate’s.

We got into Wal-Mart stores and by 2011, we were in CostCo, too. And then we got into Kroger grocery stores. We went from being in 88 stores to 1,000 across the country. Nature Nate’s went from five employees to 135.

We have distribution centers in Denton and Georgia and also opened a retail store. We partner with 70 beekeepers across the country.

Typically, honey production starts in the southern United States and migrates north as temperatures warm up. The yearly migration, called the honey flow, starts in late February and moves to North Dakota by June.

 

Editors Note: This story was changed on July 18, 2017 to correct an earlier version of this article. Sheets bought the North Dallas Honey Company and changed the name to Nature Nate’s.

June 19, 2017 - 5:35pm