Make the Drive to Join the Hive
By Briana Loëb
About 30 miles from downtown Austin, nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find a sleepy little town called Spicewood. This charming spot is known for its amazing water holes, as well as being the home to Austin’s legendary Willie Nelson. Now, locals and passersby can enjoy fine dining at a unique establishment that we’ve simply fallen for. Apis Restaurant and Apiary is a beautiful restaurant that blends inconspicuous elegance with a modern approach, all while snuggly settled against the Pedernales River in the heart of Central Texas. On top of that, we can learn a lot from this founder’s unique story.
While Apis has been opened since January of 2015, the story begins long before. The entrepreneur behind the restaurant, Taylor Hall, has loved food since a young age. His earliest memories consist of stirring pots in his family’s kitchen in North Texas. From there he fell in love with it, and his career has blossomed. He attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco after college and started earning his chops.
It wasn’t too long before he moved back to the greater Austin area, this time with an impressive litany of experience ready to open his very own restaurant and start a family.
“My life revolves around food,” said Taylor, sitting with us in this beautiful restaurant that he’s built. So when he was researching the concept for his new business, he got hooked on bees. “I started realizing how important the honeybee is to the food cycle. As I researched, I became interested in the nature of bees, so I took a beekeeping class. And when I got all suited up and saw them open up the hive, the buzz was electric. I fell instantly in love with it. So I started beekeeping. Therefore, the inspiration behind Apis is the honeybee, and I’m driven by the challenges that the honeybee has faced within the past 30 years due to colony collapse disorder.”
Thus, Apis was born. Bees have not only taken over Taylor’s lifestyle, they’ve taken over his business. He admires the efficiency of the hive and strives to replicate that in his own company culture. “Within a colony of bees, every bee has its role,” he says. “They have a function that they have to carry out daily. If there are any bees that fail that function, the health of the hive breaks down. And it also moves very rapidly, which inspires classic phrase ‘busy bee.’ This is very similar to a restaurant. People are humming around, buzzing around, all carrying out specific duties to accomplish a shared goal.”
Taylor promotes sustainable farming on a small community level to help combat the problem that our honeybees are facing. The byproducts of this work are also incorporated into every level of the business. Honey is woven into multiple menu items, the wax is used for cooking, the pollen is gathered and harvested. Additionally, nearly every surface in the place is artfully detailed with honeycomb patterns. Even the name, Apis, is the genus of the honeybee.
As you walk through the grounds, you can truly see the care that this business has put into sustainability. They’ve gone beyond the typical “farm-to-table” model that we see trending today and instead have truly incorporated the community and its natural resources into every detail of the restaurant.
If we didn’t already think that Apis was unique enough, there’s even more to it that makes it special. “First and foremost, it’s the people,” Taylor says. “It's the mentality that we bring every person into this restaurant under. They have to be passionate about being here, they must share the same passion that we have. With that base, we can develop a level of understanding that fosters trust. From there, they can flourish, and we can grow them through the company to help them meet their goals.”
Taylor remains humble about what he has built with the team he has. “Everyone cares,” he says. “The staff is unbelievable in the way they receive every person that comes into the building. That’s what makes it worthwhile to ‘make the drive to come join the hive.’”
One of the people that Taylor has employed who has helped him excel is Adam Brick, the head chef. “He is a fantastic chef,” says Taylor. “He’s what I would call the motor behind the kitchen. I really think that every waking moment he's thinking about food, developing recipes, forming relationship with cooks in the kitchen, et cetera. Adam’s creative skill and sheer talent make him the best person I’ve ever worked with.” Having such a bright mind driving the kitchen has helped Taylor focus on management as well as running the place’s day-to-day activities.
We had the opportunity to talk to Adam and ask him about how the place has evolved. “We're always pushing the envelope on how we can make this little, tiny 40-seat restaurant in Spicewood the best it possibly can be,” says Adam. “My job is to get us the best product possible. We can raise our pigs. We can grow the wheat. We have our own little spectrum in time, and we owe it to ourselves and our guests to surpass greatness.”
Apis is a finely-tuned machine. But naturally, Taylor can’t stop there. Apis had been open for a year and a half when he realized that they weren’t casting a wide enough net to capture the surrounding market. “Spicewood, Texas is an interesting region because there are a lot of different cultures colliding. You have the affluent retirees and the professionals that are commuting to Austin, which is what we saw when we decided to build Apis. But there are a lot of families here with kids. I have children, and I know how difficult it is to take them to a nice restaurant. It's a nightmare to me. I'd rather eat a grilled cheese sandwich at home on most nights. We realized that we needed to offer something for those families.” Determined to offer something else for the community, Taylor recognized Adam’s background in pizza and called on his skills to start Pizzeria Sorellina. With a 10-year-old dough starter from New York and heirloom wheats from Barton Springs Mill, they make classic Neapolitan style pizzas.
“The name Sorellina means ‘little sister’ in Italian,” Taylor says. “It’s the little sister to Apis, which holds largely to Italian traditions. The wine list is wholly Italian wines, but we also partner with local Austin breweries to offer a great beer selection.”
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies (er- beehives?), of course. We had to ask Taylor about the hardest part of the business. “The hardest thing I’ve encountered is letting people go,” he answers. “Throughout our history, I’ve become very close to people that we have to let go of. But those are my most difficult moments.”
So what’s in the future for the restaurant? Taylor says that he’s been approached by folks that want to open another Apis inside of Austin. “I feel like Apis is Apis and there will never be another Apis. However, we’re working with developers in town about a different take on the concept. Almost like the alter-ego of Apis/Sorellina.”
As founders, we always want to know how we can learn from others’ successes. Taylor has found his groove, but he’s learned a lot of lessons along the way. “If I were talking to a young chef/restauranteur with big aspirations, or even myself 10 years ago, I would first tell them to work in restaurants for a long time. Learn different areas of the restaurant, get close with the people that own it and that run it, try to understand what challenges they face on a daily basis. Oftentimes, there are aspects you didn’t know existed. I didn't know some of those things. Fortunately, I love to tackle a challenge, so I enjoy facing unanticipated obstacles and transforming them into opportunities. Not everyone is like that, and I wouldn’t blame them. So, I’d tell any emerging founder not to underestimate the task that lays in front of them.”