At 5 a.m., local beekeeper Michael Sedlacek is already thinking about Worker B. He co-founded the line of bee-derived body goods and candles 10 years ago, after his friend, beekeeper and co-founder Liesa Helfen, noticed restorative effects while handling bee products (said to possess anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties).
“I’m excited—I mean, I’m here super duper early again,” Sedlacek says, noting the big anniversary. “The earth is sleeping out there, but we’re kind of doing the incubation now in here.”
On the second floor of northeast Minneapolis’ Northrup King Building, Worker B uses a small former cafeteria as a production facility. On a stainless-steel table, mixing bowls contain multi-hued honeys sourced from around St. Cloud, and at the far end of the room, windows stage the full arc of the sun. “Which is strangely tied to what we do here every day,” Sedlacek says.
Along with honey, you’ll catch whiffs of Worker B’s two other main ingredients. Large trays contain crumbly spreads of propolis, a cocoa-looking substance bees use to caulk hives. When Sedlacek turns a knob, hot beeswax gushes from a vat. These bee-made materials do the heavy lifting in lotions, scrubs, facial creams, lip balms, and other preservative-free products. Paraben-conscious consumers can find them at dozens of Minnesota locations, as well as shops in New York, California, and Washington state.
Smaller than Burt’s Bees, Worker B is also less of a “lifestyle brand” than Savannah Bee Co. “We’re not making five kinds of lip balm,” Sedlacek says—“mint, birthday cake, sparkles, whatever—just for the sake of selling more lip balm.”
They started small, at the Minnesota State Fair. The fair’s honey counter requested Worker B’s presence in 2010, back when Sedlacek and Helfen didn’t even have samples to send over. Cut to about five years later: They opened a store at Mall of America and started a “honey bar” of their own.
It’s where Sedlacek dispels customers’ bear-bottle misconceptions. You might taste licorice, cream soda—or even mint—courtesy of some 50 international beekeepers per year. Still, no sparkles: “It is 100% about the nectar,” he says. After feasting on meadowfoam in Oregon, some bees make honey redolent of cotton candy. “‘What’s in it?’ Nothing is in it.” Just prairies, wetlands, forests, and other nectar smorgasbords.
“By the time that [Mall of America] store opened, we were 10 or 12 years into bee-related activity,” Sedlacek says, “and not necessarily just Worker B. Before that, there were small farmers. We had traveled so much, promoting the line. We called everyone we knew and said, ‘Ship us what you got.’”
The honey counter sits at the center of a global network of beekeepers, while the skincare line taps local, multi-generational providers. (Operations are a trade secret, but things do get sticky—“one drop seems to travel everywhere,” he says.)
Year 10 has prompted reflection, and Sedlacek says he wants to return to the basics. After long buzzing about “apitherapy,” the Worker B team last winter opened the Worker B Wellness center next to St. Paul’s Keg and Case Market (where Worker B has another store).
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, guests at this bee-centric spa could get silk-cocoon facials, float in sensory-deprivation tanks, and meditate in a one-of-a-kind room made of beeswax. During the pandemic, the spa is offering guided meditation, wellness tips that use Worker B products, and other resources online.
“It’s not like we’re discovering new parts of the beehives—we’re not,” Sedlacek notes. “But just how [the bee-derived products] interact with other ingredients, how they interact with the skin…we’re still learning.”
Keep an eye out for new developments, products, and a reopening date for the spa. Until then, Sedlacek has taken it back to the beehive, just as beekeepers worldwide wake up to new flavors.