Growing up in Communist Romania, Mihaela Gutman and her family lacked many basics.
Honey, however, was abundant.
“Honey was our dessert, our medicine, our everything,” said Gutman, who now lives in South Beach. “We didn’t have sugar; we didn’t have anything. But we had honey. I grew up fascinated with bees.”
Today, she is a nascent entrepreneur, having recently launched Sunny Honey Miami with her husband, Jorge Gutman, a Miami Beach contractor.
The company sells seven types of honey. But this is not the honey you squeeze out of a plastic bear. Imported from Canada, the honey is creamed and bottled in Florida, giving it a texture similar to crème brulée. The honey is flavored with vanilla, matcha, cacao, coconut, key lime or lavender for as long as two weeks. The company also sells a plain creamed honey, Gutman’s favorite.
It’s not cheap — $22.99 for a 12-ounce jar, sold on Sunny Honey’s website and at My Deli Market on Brickell Bay Drive. They are also marketing it at specialty food shows.
They’ve sold about $50,000 since launching three months ago, says Jorge Gutman, adding they have seven employees.
“What they have done is a change in the industry,” said Joaquin Mantovani, a honey importer in Florida who advises them.
Gutman grew up in Romania in a family of beekeepers. When she was young, Romania was ruled by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose 22-year Communist rule was marked by killings of thousands of Romanians, drastic shortages of food and water and government corruption, including Ceausescu appointing his wife Elena as first deputy prime minister.
On Dec. 25, 1989 — after he and his wife were convicted of genocide in a military trial and sentenced to death — they were executed by firing squad. The northern part of Romania borders Ukraine.
Growing up, Gutman was told women didn’t work, that their calling was in the home.
That changed when Gutman left Romania for the first time in 1994. At age 20, she was selected to represent Romania at the Miss Universe pageant in the Philippines. Seeing life outside of a Communist country opened her eyes.
“I decided I was going to travel the whole world,” said Gutman, now 47.
Baker in Turks and Caicos
One of her stops was the Turks and Caicos, an archipelago southeast of the Bahamas in the Atlantic Ocean. In 2011, she was working in a bakery there when Jorge Gutman, vacationing in the islands, walked in.
“She walked out of the kitchen and I fell in love,” he said. “For me, it was love at first sight.”
Two years later, she moved to South Beach and the couple married. They bought a beehive for the backyard of their South Beach home, eventually leading them to create Sunny Honey. Gutman works full time at the business while her husband continues in real estate.
Gutman tested the recipes over three years, trying different honeys and infusing them with different flavors.
”What they have done is put a white gold on the shelf,” Mantovani said, noting they use a rare white honey.
White honey, unlike amber honey, has a milky, custard-like color. Mantovani says the lighter the honey, the sweeter it is.
“If you try theirs and then you try a Publix honey, you will taste the difference. It’s sweeter and not bitter.”