Buzzing About Bees and Sustainability

Chef Richard Sandoval’s fascination with bees and their critical role in food sustainability began years ago, rooted in a deep respect for nature's intricate balance.

“As a chef, I've always been passionate about sourcing the best ingredients, and it became evident to me that bees are not just producers of honey but indispensable pollinators for countless crops we rely on for food,” the leader of in contemporary Latin cuisine with 60+ restaurant locations worldwide told Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine. “One in three bites of food depends on pollinators.”

The cultural sustainability of Mexican cuisine in particular is susceptible to bee decline as indigenous ingredients like tomatoes, vanilla, squash, cacao, chiles, and avocados all require pollinators to thrive.

Sandoval’s fascination led to his latest philanthropic and sustainability-focused initiative: the launch of the third iteration of his Viva Abejas  ("Long Live Bees") campaign, which focuses on the significance of bees in the food cycle – and teaching children about it.

“I wanted to raise awareness about the plight of bees and inspire action to protect them, specifically through awareness and teaching children who are the next generation of stewards to our planet, he said. “By integrating bee-friendly practices into our culinary endeavors, we aim to make a positive impact on both the environment and the quality of the food we serve.”

The 360-degree campaign, inclusive of philanthropy, F+B and retail elements, provides participating restaurants with a limited-time honey-focused menu and the opportunity to install an on-site beehive system. For the first time this year, it also includes an educational component in which Richard Sandoval Hospitality(RSH) aims to teach 60,000 early learners about the importance of bees through a signature in-school lesson plan in partnership with Title-1 elementary schools and through Chef’s children’s book on food sustainability.

“The menu collection featured during Viva Abejas is really a vehicle to spark conversation with our guests about bees,” Sandoval said. “We serve more than 300,000 people each month in RSH locations globally and we want guests to learn, through our menus, a little bit more on what we’re doing and how they can help. To help spark these conversations, many of our restaurants are also giving out wildflower seed packets for our guests to plant their own pollinator garden at home.”

The campaign offers an immersive training effort for staff, he added.

“To train our teams about this is really something that’s about talking about the proverbial forest AND the trees," said Sandoval. "A menu special is great and fun and exciting but answering the ‘why’ behind it is what training centered around. From video training material on staff notice boards and through our intranets, to games and exercises at shift meetings lead by our managers, to visual lesson plans that supplement training material for all team members entering the company, we realize everyone learns in different ways, so needed to ensure the message was canvassed in as many ways as possible.”

Sandoval’s hopes for the Viva Abejas campaign include contributing to the collective effort to safeguard bee populations and ensure a sustainable future as well as sparking a broader conversation about the importance of bees and encourage other businesses to adopt bee-friendly practices. 

For restaurateurs inspired by the campaign, Sandoval recommends several actionable steps they can take in their own establishments. These include sourcing ingredients from local, sustainable producers; incorporating bee-friendly practices such as planting pollinator-friendly gardens or using organic pest control methods; and educating both staff and customers about the importance of bees to food sustainability.

Sandoval hopes guests leave with a newfound appreciation for the vital role bees play in food sustainability. 

“By learning about the interconnectedness of our food system and the environment, I aim to inspire conscious consumer choices and a sense of responsibility towards preserving nature's delicate ecosystems. I also hope they learn about some ways they can help make an impact.”

The team at Delaware North are also buzzing about their bee-related initiative. To commemorate April’s Earth Month and World Bee Day on May 20, more than 100 Delaware North U.S. operating locations are offering the “Bee's Harvest Margarita” with PATRÓN Silver Tequila and the 'Bourbon Bee's Knees' with Angel's Envy Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. 

The special cocktail for a cause initiative is a partnership with The Bee Cause Project to promote education and awareness for the planet’s pollinators. 

During the campaign, educational material will be provided via an interactive, augmented reality experience (accessible on mobile devices from a QR code). Customers will have the opportunity to answer trivia questions to learn about the importance of pollinators and share pollinator-themed facts and selfies on social media.