Just Beesweet

By Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Knoxy

Nine-year-old Mikaila Ulmer might be adorable, but you’d be a fool to underestimate her. This is a girl on a mission who’s already the owner of a thriving bottled-lemonade business with product on the shelves at Whole Foods Market and devoted customers all over Austin. Oh, and she aims to save the American honeybee, too.

Several years ago, Mikaila was stung by bees twice in one summer. Her parents, D’Andra and Theo, encouraged her to conquer her fear of bees by making a recipe with honey. Since Mikaila was already signed up for the Acton Academy’s Children’s Business Fair and had plans to sell lemonade there, she decided to incorporate local honey into the recipe and BeeSweet Lemonade was born. 

After customers tasted Mikaila’s divine concoction of tart, freshly squeezed lemons with the up-front notes of sweet, musky, floral, aromatic honey, they demanded more. Ever the perfectionist, the tiny entrepreneur went back to the kitchen to tinker with, and perfect, the recipe. To help with recipe development, Mikaila’s paternal great-grandmother handed down her own dog-eared, well-loved cookbook from the 1940s, and in its pages Mikaila discovered a lemonade recipe made with flaxseeds, which intrigued her. The family’s garden was overflowing with mint at the time, and all of the elements suddenly came together to form Mikaila’s signature drink: mint and flaxseed lemonade sweetened with honey.

Over the next several years, Mikaila participated in Austin’s Lemonade Day and continued to sell BeeSweet at the Acton Children’s Business Fair, but soon she had visions of doing more. In Tillery Park one day, the Ulmer family ran into Michael Freid, the owner of East Side Pies—a local pizza restaurant with a reputation for sourcing high-quality local ingredients. Freid was impressed with the product and with Mikaila’s determination. He encouraged her to switch from plastic to glass bottles and offered to carry BeeSweet at all four of his locations. 

Mikaila tapped her father’s financial background to understand profit margins, costs and scaling, and with a background in strategic marketing, her mother has been able to help share BeeSweet’s story. And while her parents offer guidance and support, the business is all Mikaila’s. She has the final say on everything from product quality to pitching retailers, and has worked hard to educate herself about every aspect of the business. She often sits down with her father to get a better understanding of financials; she took a beekeeping class with Round Rock Honey, and she spends a good bit of time sharing the importance of saving the honeybee with kids and adults.

Mikaila often asks people to list everything they’ve eaten on a given day, then puts a check mark next to each item that was bee-pollinated. Oftentimes, people discover they wouldn’t have had a single thing to eat that day if it weren’t for bees. “If bees left the surface of the earth,” she says with authority, “humans would have four years to live…and that’s from Albert Einstein.” 

Mikaila believes in using honey to remedy this. She’s convinced that her product will encourage more people to fall in love with honey, and that her mission-based outreach and messaging will encourage them to take action to save bees and help bring change. She shares with her audiences the importance of buying organic—not just for our own health, but to limit the amount of pesticides in the environment that contribute to colony collapse disorder. She encourages everyone she meets to plant bee-friendly flowering plants, and donates a portion of her profits to organizations working to save the honeybee (Heifer International and Texas Beekeepers Association). “Saving the bees is fun,” she says. “And I know it’s something I should be doing.”

Mikaila’s secret to success is her passion. With visions of additional flavors, wide availability in retail locations and even a BeeSweet store, she’d love to expand her lemonade empire, but one thing she won’t sacrifice is quality. On a recent visit to a co-packing operation that would allow her to increase production, the facility manager tried to convince her to do away with the fresh mint, the local honey and the freshly squeezed juice that are her signature ingredients. Mikaila would have none of it. “These ingredients are what make people like my lemonade,” she says. “I’ll just wait until I can find the right place to work with…someone who understands what’s important to me.” She’s got time—she’s only nine, after all—but our guess is that she won’t wait for long.

Find BeeSweet Lemonade at East Side Pies, Whole Foods Market (Lamar and Gateway locations), Pretty Thai for a White Guy and Quickie Pickie. Visit beesweetlemonade.com for more.