HoneyComb Café: A taste of a rising small business that’s using one of Utah’s natural ingredients

Story by KENZIE WALDON

New Year’s resolutions always open the possibility for new opportunities. That’s how Bailey Johnson and her sister BreAnna King felt at the beginning of 2020 when they made their goal of opening a bakery/coffee shop. This was the year they were finally ready to conjure this lifelong dream into a reality.

Then the pandemic struck. COVID-19’s chaotic attack on daily life led to postponement and reconfiguration of beginning the business they always envisioned.

“We felt super bummed out,” Johnson said in an email interview, “but then ultimately decided that Utah needed another Black owned business this year.” 

By October 2020, Johnson independently opened the virtual doors to the HoneyComb Café, a “Black and women owned bake shop,” serving dairy and vegan pastries with honey harvested from local hives by the team.

The HoneyComb Café’s logo, courtesy of its Instagram profile. Designed by Victor J. Herrera.

Johnson initiated this online bakery offering local delivery or pick-up from their new Cottonwood Heights-based industrial kitchen at 1164 E. Hemmingway Drive. Since its opening, the HoneyComb Café has quickly grown in popularity with the use of social media platforms, such as Instagram, and through involvement in the local community.

“We started with a pop-up shop with two other vendors to get our names out there and get our feet off the ground,” Johnson said. She credits their fast growth to “an amazing community of fellow bakers, [but] word of mouth has been what we’re striving for at the moment,” she said.

Menu favorites at the HoneyComb Café include the “danishes and beignets,” Johnson said. These multi-layered and fritter-type pastries can be custom made with dairy or vegan ingredients. 

The HoneyComb Café’s stand-out quality is that it will substitute sugar for honey from honeybee hives that they harvest and maintain. “All of our honey in our products came from our beautiful hives that we’ve [taken care of] for [the last] three years,” Johnson said. 

Unfortunately, due to severe winter exposure, three out of four hives unexpectedly died this season. But Johnson plans to rebuild more honeybee hives this spring that will have more resilience to the ever-evolving Utah climate. “Our hives were so special and cherished,” Johnson said. “We are excited to start a few more this year and work harder to make sure they’re safe for the off season.” 

The HoneyComb Café team harvesting honey from the honeybee hives. Courtesy of the HoneyComb Café website. Photograph by Joe Johnson.

The HoneyComb Café’s delectable goodies have garnered consistent loyalty from its clientele since the beginning. From highlighting chocolate pudding pie to matcha bread on the website, the HoneyComb Café offers a dessert experience that is uniquely their own. “When every customer enjoys my pastries, I hope they are so happy and realize that 3 colonies of Honeybees, which is over 240,000 working bees, are the reason we are living, breathing, and enjoying HoneyComb Cafe’s pastry,” Johnson said.

Johnson reciprocates this loyalty back into her business by consistently considering her mantra: “Always put people over profit.” She hopes to expand enough in the upcoming years to transition HoneyComb Café into a storefront where customers are welcome to stay, relax and enjoy its high-quality pastries and coffee. 

Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit is driven by the people she loves and supports her — including her HoneyComb Café team. 

“I am dedicated to making sure this business takes off,” said Valerie Evans in an email interview, a baker at the HoneyComb Café and Johnson’s mother. “I’m dedicated to providing goods to our customers, and I’m dedicated to learning everything about vegan eating,” she said.

Evans has been helping Johnson with HoneyComb Café since it opened in October. “It was honestly a dream come true for her to ask me to not only help bake, but to also formulate the menus and try out new recipes,” Evans said. 

The HoneyComb Café’s displayed goodies during a pop-up shop in October 2020. Courtesy of the HoneyComb Café’s Instagram. Photographed by Bailey Johnson.

With this being the first time she’s worked at a locally owned business, she noted the contrast from previous jobs. “It’s so different because I feel like I’m helping achieve a dream while also building customer connections with different kinds of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Evans said.

Tyce Hawkins, the marketing director and customer relations associate at HoneyComb Café, has also been with the business since Day One. 

Similar to Evans, this is Hawkins first time working at a locally owned business — seeing it as an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up. Hawkins said he enjoys feeling viable and not like a “cog in a system.”

“Every week we improve in a new way and the work that we do helps the café grow and connects us to the community in a more meaningful way,” Hawkins said. 

This support pushes Johnson’s drive to further represent the Black-owned business community in Utah, striving to benefit the Salt Lake City area for the better.

If there’s one thing that Johnson wants her customers to take away from supporting the HoneyComb Café, rather than just an experience filled with tasty treats and a new appreciation for the Beehive State’s resources, is “how amazing Black owned businesses are, and how amazing and life-changing honeybees can be.”