Staying FocusedSeptember 1, 2022
#BetaFamousSeptember 1, 2022
A honeybee colony is a well-oiled machine made up of three types of bees, all with unique roles crucial to the hive’s operations: workers, drones, and the queen bee.
However, it’s the worker bees that ultimately run the show. They’re responsible for cleaning the beehive, building honeycombs, gathering pollen and nectar to produce honey, and more.
Take a look at the family-led team behind Thibodaux Bee Company, and one will see that it operates in much the same way. Dad Mike Straney is the business’s resident bee expert, while mom Jen Straney is its marketing mastermind.
And just like the worker bees take charge in a beehive, the Straney family’s three young entrepreneurs have spearheaded the company’s products and operations since its origins at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Eleanor, the oldest sister, is the company’s head of sales and finances, while middle sister Amelia specializes in taste-testing for the development of products. Rounding out the team is Fitz, who oversees the business’s vegetable garden and assists his dad with beekeeping and beehive removals.
Together, the Straney family has built Thibodaux Bee Company into a multilayer operation, all falling under the umbrella of Vincenzo Farms, that sells an array of fresh products, including raw honey and honeycomb, infused honey, honeypops, fresh eggs, satsumas, satsuma juice, homemade butter, and more.
“I think yes, people come for the honey, but when they realize it’s kids doing it and selling it, they’re amazed by that,” Jen says. “ People ask how do we do it, but [the children] are doing it…They do all the labels. They put all the labels on. They’re filling the jars. We have like a little assembly line. We have a process.”
Thibodaux Bee Company started in 2020 as a quarantine project for Eleanor and Amelia, who sought to have their own money to spend.
The Straney family’s property, purchased in 2017, afforded the perfect opportunity to begin a small business. Rich with fruit trees and equipped with room for gardens, beehives and a barn for livestock, the Straneys named the land Vincenzo Farms after Jen’s great, great grandfather and Sicilian immigrant Vincenzo Sotile.
“We wanted to pretend to be adults. We wanted our own money, and we wanted to be rich,” Eleanor says. “I was like, well what if we start selling the satsumas from the citrus trees?”
After developing their business idea, Eleanor and Amelia settled on the name “Citrus Sisters” for their endeavor – an endeavor that Jen and Mike saw as an opportunity to teach their children about money and hard work from a young age.
Growing up in families heavily committed to agriculture and operating family businesses, Jen and Mike know firsthand the value of the skills their children could gain from running their own company. Jen’s maternal grandparents are sugar cane farmers, and every generation from her grandfather down to herself was involved with the 4-H livestock project growing up. Mike, who hails from Texas, showed pigs through Future Farmers of America (FFA).
“Family’s a big, important thing for us. Just the heritage, the traditions. It’s something we’ve kept up with,” Jen says. “My mom’s side is the farming and the agriculture, and then my dad’s side is the business. And I grew up [where] everybody works in the family businesses for generations…I felt strongly about trying to teach them about how to balance a checkbook and run a business and make sure you’re supporting your customers.”
As Eleanor and Amelia began to review the expenses that would accompany launching a business, they realized they would need financial assistance. As a result, Mike and Jen agreed to cover the startup costs for Citrus Sisters if the duo donated half of its profits to various charities.
Thus, the Citrus Sisters operation was underway. Since it began, the girls say that their favorite part of running the business has included social media tasks, such as taking photos and making Instagram and Facebook Reels. Fitz also notes that their two barn cats, fittingly named Satsuma and Honey, are another high point.
The most challenging part?
“Probably keeping the money,” Amelia says.
“You have to remember your expenses so you know how much you actually make,” Eleanor says. “You spent money on jars and decorations and stuff.”
The Citrus Sisters business, which operates out of a stand at the front of Vincenzo Farms, gradually began incorporating new products into their offerings – such as homemade butter, at Fitz’s suggestion.
“At school, we made butter and crackers,” Fitz says.
“He said ‘We can put butter at the stand!’” Jen laughs.
However, the driving force that led to the business’s growth was the introduction of honey to its product lineup.
Mike’s passion for honey and beekeeping began while he studied biomedical science and entomology at Texas A&M University. He says he was surrounded by a great deal of research on insects, particularly bees.
“There’s lots about bees that people don’t know or that they don’t understand about how they reproduce and what happens when they move from place to place,” Mike says. “Last time we did [a sale] I was standing there for two-and-a-half hours answering questions about bees.”
The Straneys put out their first swarm traps in 2017 when they moved to Vincenzo Farms, eventually acquiring enough small amounts of honey for themselves and their immediate families.
When their honey production increased, though, they decided to add it as a Citrus Sisters offering, and demand skyrocketed. Now, the Straneys have roughly 30 beehives on their property, with plans to increase to 50 and expand to a secondary site. They additionally offer hive removals.
The increased demand for honey, particularly during the summer of 2021, was the driving force that led the Straneys to realize it was time to expand the Citrus Sisters operation.
“As soon as we had honey, it was sold,” Jen says.
Since April, the Straneys’ ever-expanding business has operated under the mantle of Thibodaux Bee Company and hosts pop-up sale days at Vincenzo Farms for its variety of products. In addition, the business continues to donate a portion of its sales to various charities, including food banks and relief funds following the impact of Hurricane Ida.
The Straneys clarify that sale days are less of a chore and more of a party for family, friends and customers, though.
“We have a series of tents and picnic tables, and we set up stations. There’s like a charcuterie section, and then there’s the table with stuff for sale,” Mike says.
A personal highlight of sale days for Jen and Mike, though, is the presence of various Louisiana-inspired cocktails the duo has created using Thibodaux Bee Company’s products, including a honey old fashioned and a “Vincenzo mule” incorporating satsuma juice.
What means the most to Jen and Mike, though, is watching their children take charge of sale days and develop their business. They note that their children’s desire to work is especially important, since both serve as full-time doctors – Jen as an OBGYN and Mike as an emergency room doctor.
“The thing that I like the most is watching them develop in their business savviness,” Mike says. “When we were doing the last sale in the front yard, [Eleanor] was basically running the register…That was really neat to watch.”
“And their ideas,” Jen says. “I kind of taught them ideas, but now they come up with ideas – advertising ideas, new products, and different things like that.”
New product ideas come organically for the Straneys, such as through Fitz’s homemade butter experience at school, inspiration from customers or ingredients for other products.
“The way we got into the lemon and herb honey is we were making honeypops, and my mom posted a picture, just like lemon and herbs…so she posted it and it was like infused honeypops, and someone thought it was infused honey, so then we got into making infused honey,” Eleanor says.
“We put rosemary and lavender and lemon zest in the honey, we let it sit for a couple days, and it was awesome. It’s probably our best seller,” Jen says. “We strain [the honey], so I took all of that out of the honey, chopped it up, and made a butter, so now we have lemon and herb butter.”
The Straney family’s passion for agriculture is evident in the work that takes place on Vincenzo Farms, including Thibodaux Bee Company and the children’s prize-winning participation in 4-H’s livestock program.
The family is always looking to grow its company and welcome new ideas and offerings. Mike says the Straneys hope to welcome goats to the farm to introduce goat cheeses, expand Fitz’s vegetable garden and, of course, increase honey production by reaching 100 beehives.
Jen dreams of a building to house Thibodaux Bee Company, complete with a facility where they can host tours or field trips to view the beehives, see how honey is made and sample fresh honey.
The young Straney entrepreneurs, of course, have their own dreams for what they hope to do in the future. Eleanor sees herself as a veterinarian, while Amelia dreams of being either a veterinarian or a teacher. Fitz, on the other hand, hopes to become a tire salesman or a pilot or a paleontologist.
“I know for a fact that they’re going to be better citizens because they’re learning how to do things like this,” Jen says.
Thibodaux Bee Company and Citrus Sisters can be found on Facebook @thibodauxbee and @VincenzoFarms or online at