The story hook with Struther's Honey in Lake Wales isn't just their orange blossom honey - fresh, tasty, and, I'm certain, a ray of sweet liquid sunshine for northern visitors.
The real story behind Struther's is something else. In our fast-paced, trust-no one world, Struther's does something unique - they sell their honey on the honor system, as they've done since 1935.
Struther's tiny retail store (located in what was decades ago a gas station) is off of Route 60, heading east past Lake Wales. There's a big sign in red letters on the top of the store that says "Honey," but it's one of those things you could drive past for years and never really take notice.
I walked inside one day recently and saw another customer, who told me his wife loves to put honey in her coffee. There were small and large containers of honey; the 1-pound jar I selected was $5.
The walls were adorned with pictures of the family business throughout the years and a few framed copies of articles.
Now here's where it gets interesting. When I went to pay for the honey, I didn't give my money to a smiling cashier. Instead, there was a larger wooden container that said "Self Service, Prices Marked on Containers, Honor System, Thank You, God Bless." It then indicated that you could place your payment in the container via a slot that was too small for my fingers. If you plan to visit, bring cash, as there's no set up for credit cards.
Although the Struthers have had some money stolen throughout the years, it's never been enough to change their honor system, said Lotta Kay Struthers, who runs the business with her husband Alden. There are signs in the store that say there are security cameras; truthfully, they're not set up, said Struthers.
Struthers said a historical book about Lake Wales recounts putting a quarter in a coffee can in the 1940s to buy 4 pounds of Struthers honey.
Now, generations of families come to Struthers, said Struthers.
Struthers said she would prefer not to share how many visitors they get, for fear of letting the world now just how much money is in their honey pot (a.k.a. their honor system container). However, it sounds like business can be brisk in season.
The Struthers are beekeepers, packers and retailers; in addition to their store, they also sell baker's-grade honey to commercial kitchens.
Here's something else different about Struther's: They do little if any advertising. Although their honey is sold at a gift shop for the Circle of Friends Ministry in Lake Wales, they don't sell it retail elsewhere. There's no website. Even the phone number I found online at first was wrong; I had to look once or twice more to find a working number.
Yet even with their low profile, the Old Florida charm of Struther's gets noticed. Florida Travel & Life magazine recently named Struther's as part of its annual Ultimate Florida Food Guide.
The Struthers family has been fortunate to maintain their retail business by word of mouth. "Someone will take honey to their friends," said Struthers. Then that person wants to come by and get more, she explained.
The bees used by the Struthers are state-wide travelers, working with peppers, cantaloupes, berries, and, of course, oranges, depending on what's in season. Although they used to focus exclusively on citrus, that's had to change due to diseases and pests affecting many citrus groves now, Struthers said.