Claude Nutt showed off the comb pattern the bees are making to hold their honey. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Claude Nutt showed off the comb pattern the bees are making to hold their honey. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Texas Roadhouse has hired some new worker bees at its headquarters.

The Louisville-based steakhouse chain has partnered with the Oldham County Beekeepers Association to install two beehives behind its offices on Dutchmans Lane to help inform people about the United States’ struggling bee populations and the importance of bees to agriculture.

“I’ve been interested probably for 25 years in beekeeping after reading a National Geographic article about itinerant beekeepers,” said Travis Doster, senior director of public relations for Texas Roadhouse. “I thought we use a lot of honey. How can we help just raise awareness of it?”

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of beehives in the United States has dropped from 4.14 million in 1980 to 2.64 million in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. While the 2013 number is up from 2007, when there were only 2.3 million beehives, beekeepers are still reporting high rates of beehive losses.

Most beekeepers lose about one-third of their hives each year, said Claude Nutt, president of the 45-member Oldham County Beekeepers Association and a beekeeper for 29 years. This past year he called himself lucky, noting that he only lost one hive.

“That’s great, but its pretty uncommon,” he said. “(Beekeepers) are losing them for all kind of reasons — the increased use of pesticides, what we call monoculture. You go out into the countryside and what you see is acres of corn or acres of the same thing.”

Bees like different types of plants when pollinating and creating honey, Nutt said, who has moved some of his beehives to various places in the city where there are greater varieties of plants. Fellow association member Rodolfo Bernal, for example, keeps a hive at Cave Hill Cemetery.

In addition to pesticides and monoculture, the insects are facing parasitic mites called varroa, which can whittle down their numbers.

Bees are nature’s pollinators, and plants, particularly fruit trees and bushes, rely on bees to propagate them. The bees help crops flourish.

By virtue of being a restaurant, Texas Roadhouse is in the agriculture business, which is why Doster said the company reached out to Nutt and Bernal to set up the two hives to raise awareness about the importance of bees.

“We were delighted to come over,” Nutt said, adding that they could add up to two more hives at Texas Roadhouse’s headquarters, depending on how the bees fare this year.

Beekeeper Claude Nutt is feeding his bees syrup as the hive gets acclimated to its new home. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Beekeeper Claude Nutt is feeding his bees syrup as the hive gets acclimated to its new home. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

During the warmer months, the bees will forage for nectar and pollen up to 3 miles away from their hive. Each hive contains 40,000 to 50,000 bees in the summer.

Unfortunately, most of the bees won’t be around long enough to collect a pension from Texas Roadhouse. Each winter, the hive drops in numbers to ensure its survival, and come spring, they get busy making new bees to help them produce as much honey as possible.

“The more bees getting out there and getting the nectar, the better,” Nutt said.

Nutt didn’t offer any expectations for the first year since the bees are getting acclimated to their new home. They could fill up the collection boxes, called supers, with honey, or they may only produce enough to feed themselves during winter.

“The average hive, if it is moderately productive, will give you about 30 pounds of honey,” he said. “We have high hopes, but anything could happen.”

Any honey collected, beyond what the bees need to stay alive, will be placed into jars for employees at Texas Roadhouse’s headquarters. Another Louisville restaurant company The Bristol Bar & Grille placed a beehive on the rooftop of its Highlands store last year and has been using the honey in the restaurant’s dishes.

At Texas Roadhouse, Bernal and Nutt’s diverging approaches to beekeeping have created a little competition to see who’s hive will produce the most honey.

The hive on the right is Claude Nutt's and the one on the left is Rodolfo Bernal's. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

The hive on the right is Claude Nutt’s and the one on the left is Rodolfo Bernal’s. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Nutt set up his hive in the open so the sun can rain down on his clean, white hive. Bernal’s hive is not only parked under the partial shade of a tree, but it also is colored light blue and pastel yellow.

One thing Bernal and Nutt do agree on is that the hive should face east to shield the bees from winter winds, which typically whip in from the west. It also ensures their bees wake up with the sun and get to work.

Doster said the two hives are hopefully just the beginning. He’s already received a phone call from a Texas Roadhouse store in Wisconsin that heard about the hives and wants to install its own.

“I’m excited,” Doster said. “It’s been a fun project.”

Doster also plans to reach out to other Louisville companies and challenge them to do the same.

“What if we got two or three other companies headquartered here to do two hives. My kids’ school, I was thinking if we could do an observation hive for a classroom, just show people this is a big deal,” he said. “Everything we rely on is agriculture based.”