Before he could open a gourmet neighborhood market, Jason Owens needed to become a neighbor. That’s why he moved to Allston six months ago.
Owens, set to open a second location of his popular gourmet food market Bee’s Knees in Allston, is a force on the Boston food scene. He was recruited to come from Tennessee to Boston by the Back Bay Restaurant group, and worked at The Baltimore Bar and Grill in Newton and Local 149 in South Boston before the craziness of the restaurant industry began to wear on him. He opened American Provisions, a speciality food store also in South Boston, so he could serve the Boston food community in a different way. He had always created his own menus, and loved searching for the perfect suppliers and products for his customers. Opening a retail store allowed him to share this passion full time.
In many ways, Bees Knees Supply Co., Owens’ gourmet market, is more about cultivating relationships than foods. This goes two ways, the relationships with the vendors and the relationships with the customers. This concept, which Owens pioneered at American Provisions, helped him open the first successful location of Bee’s Knees in Fort Point in 2012.
“We’re not a grocery store, we don’t try to be a grocery store.”
Instead, Owens considers himself a “brand ambassador.” If something is in his store, it means it has been well-tested and he stands behind it. Whether it is sandwiches made by the onsite chef, fresh-squeezed juices, local cheeses, or the beloved Jamaica Plain ice cream batch, every item in Bee’s Knees is something Owens and his team has carefully selected. The name says it all—it recalls something older, simpler, but also just the greatest. “If we have it, we’ve vetted it to be the best,” Owens said.
Though a new location is in the works, Owens made it clear that there are simply not going to be two replica Bee’s Knees across the city from one another. “We’re not looking to do the same thing over and over again,” Owens said.
Fort Point, bordered by South Station and dotted with businesses, serves the Boston worker. She can breeze in, choose a carefully crafted sandwich or house-made charcuterie and pickles for lunch, sit in the cafe and sip on her morning espresso, and read The Globe on her iPad or take it to go.
Allston, on the other hand, is the opposite of the breezy business neighborhood. Owens emphasized the neighborhood community present. At this Bee’s Knees location, the focus will be on the resident. He can get a great prepared meal or thoughtfully choose wine and local cheese for a dinner party. Or, staying true to the persona of the neighborhood, the customers can purchase craft beer. “I know it’s a trend, but we do sell some great craft beer,” Owens said with a chuckle.
The new Allston location, taking over the formerly student-frequented bar Joshua Tree at the Griggs St. T-stop, is looking to integrate itself into the community. They’ve held neighborhood meetings, but even more meaningful to Owens is how often people just pop in to chat. They’re also looking to hire from around the neighborhood, even inviting applications from Boston College and Boston University students for baristas and cashier positions.
Just like the rest of its neighbors, Bee’s Knees’ Allston location was impaired by the insufferable Boston winter. “There are certain milestones you need to hit when building,” Owens explained. When a city literally shuts down, permits and paperwork get pushed to the bottom of the pile or locked in offices for days on end. These delays cost money, and small businesses like Bee’s Knees feel it. Luckily, the store suffered no physical damages from this winter’s storms, just frustration from the frozen outdoors and frozen bureaucratic process.
As the snow banks grey and slowly trickle down Comm. Ave., Owens is hopeful for the success of his new location, most likely within the next 30 days, according to Boston Magazine. As Allston residents slowly come creeping out of the safety of their homes into the gently lengthening days, Bee’s Knees Supply Co. will be there to greet them with sunny fresh squeezed juices, macaroons that color of flower buds, and herbal tea to warm those fingers in denial of the still-necessary gloves. The cheery, black-and-yellow logo of Bee’s Knees Supply Co. will be one more welcome sight emerging from the snow on Comm Ave. this spring.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic