Ruben Sarino has always been fond of honey, though far from a fanatic.
A homegrown variety the 25-year-old Sarino tasted during an entrepreneurship class at Allan Hancock College last year was what inadvertently tipped the scales for him.
Less than a year later, he boasts the title of principal founder of Pacific Coast Honey, a small start-up that connects customers to the best of California’s honey.
“I was blown away when I tasted it,” Sarino told Noozhawk. “People are looking for that.”
Sarino was one of several Hancock students participating last spring in New Venture Laboratory, a relatively new class in which groups of students work 16 weeks and then pitch an entrepreneurial idea in hopes of winning the $1,000 grand prize.
After Sarino’s group scored the seed money, his fellow students sold their business rights to him. Sarino and his new business partner, Errol Leon, tweaked the original, less-successful idea — a honey tasting room — into a venture that reaches out to local bee apiaries that have the best product but not the ideal packaging or marketing know-how.
They’ve been working with beekeepers in Santa Barbara and Ojai, designing and advertising their products as an organic, more-nutritious spread that can be enjoyed with more than just toast and tea.
Pacific Coast Honey is on the shelves at Eclair Bakery in Arroyo Grande, with several other Central Coast grocery stores in the final stages of the approval process. Click here to purchase Pacific Coast Honey products online.
Sarino is the creative director, while Leon, a long-time friend, adds the financial background skills that have helped revamp the business.
Although the process involves a lot of rebranding, finding the best honey is key.
Sarino said different areas produce different varieties of honey because of whatever flowers are nearby.
In Santa Barbara, orange blossom is the honey of choice, he said.
“Whatever bees are pollinating,” Sarino said. “Getting a good sample from each area.”
Sarino, who is set to graduate from Hancock this spring, says owning and running a business has provided a good base of knowledge for when he continues studying international business at a four-year university in the fall.
“Those mistakes are what gives a person business experience,” he said. “In the end, you’re the one calling the shots.”
Pacific Coast Honey is aiming to break into San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz apiaries sometime this year, and to get into 20 more stores by summer.
While Sarino loves his honey, he’s glad he’s only in charge of selling it.
“I would be horrible at it,” he said of making the product. “We’re both good at what we do.”