Bee Man helps customers and honey bees alike
By Jordyn Grzelewski
What started out as a hobby for Bob Chmelik of Austintown turned into a nickname that has stuck for decades – “Bob the Bee Man.”
That name, in turn, was passed on to Chmelik’s business: “The Bee Man,” a pest-removal company now run by his grandson, Travis Watson.
Although much of the business involves exterminating pests such as yellow jackets, honey bees are at the heart of what the Bee Man does.
“He’s a beekeeper. I’m a beekeeper, too. He kept finding that people would call him out to get honey bees for them, and he’d find yellow jackets or hornets or wasps,” Watson said of the company’s origins.
Chmelik would take care of whatever issue he came across. When he actually found honey bees, he would remove and relocate them.
Today, Watson carries on that business model and has expanded it to serve all of Northeast Ohio.
The rescued honey bees – removal of which sometimes requires cutting them out of walls or gently extracting them using a special vacuum – are placed at Watson and Chmelik’s hives or with other local beekeepers.
The process requires carefully introducing the bees to the hives so the insects do not kill each other or reject the hives.
The Bee Man recently generated some buzz when Watson removed huge hornet nests that had been built in an abandoned El Camino car in Alliance.
The video he took went viral and was the subject of news stories across the country. He is still working through a backlog of calls that have come in since the video was posted.
An early social media presence also helped word get out about the Bee Man, and Watson said the number of annual calls has increased from 500 a few years to more than 1,100 today.
Watson got his start in the bee business as a teenager, when his grandfather needed help. He went away to law school, but decided to come back and work for the Bee Man.
“I guess it’s more fun than being a lawyer. I realized I didn’t really like working at a desk for 60 hours a week,” Watson said. “I work lawyer hours during peak season, but I enjoy the [bee] work more.”
Most of the calls are routine exterminations of yellow jackets, which Watson said are the most common insect he sees in this area and are often mistaken for honey bees.
Sometimes, the calls are a little more memorable.
Watson recalled one job at a funeral home, where bees had nested in an outdoor planter. Watson accidentally ripped the nest open, prompting angry yellow jackets to swarm and sting him.
Those six stings were the most he’s ever gotten on a call.
Another time, the Bee Man was tasked with removing a honey bee colony that had built ceiling-to-floor nests in a historic farmhouse in Lords-town.
These types of calls making the job interesting, as do the people Watson gets to meet. He is unfazed by the potential risks.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie. You get in these nests and your adrenaline gets going,” he said.
Since taking over after his grandfather retired last year, Watson has overseen some growth in the business.
While he manages the Mahoning Valley operation, his brother operates a franchise in Canton and another franchisee recently opened in Cleveland.
Now, help for clients and honey bees alike is available across Northeast Ohio – just call the Bee Man.