"There was a bit of a setback with the wood for the floors," Jason Owens says, a facemask hanging from his neck and a trucker hat perched on his head, his easygoing Nashville drawl rising above the sound of electric saws. He taps the section of flooring we're standing on with his toe. "It's over 100 years old, so it's not the easiest thing to work with," he says. "But I'm confident. It's worth it."
The wood in question spent its former life as part of a New Hampshire cotton warehouse more than a century ago. Owens, who has a passion for all things reclaimed and upcycled, says he fell in love with it the second he saw it. An amalgam of dark charcoal and bluish gray, banged up with scuffs and deep grooves, the maple has obvious character; even coated in a fine sheen of sawdust, it looks like it belongs here. Owens's insistence on coaxing it to life is just one example of the tireless tweaking he's gone through to ensure Bee's Knees Supply Company, Fort Point's newest addition and food-geek paradise, lives up to its name.
Bee's Knees was originally slated to open in November but was pushed back, as things like this tend to be. They are now aiming for a February opening, but on this snowy day in late January, the space is a haze of sawdust and splintered wood. Someone in a corner is going to town with a hydraulic nail gun, and a small crowd of people swarm around Owens asking for signatures or nods of approval.
"Honestly, it seems kind of cheesy, but I feel like everything that I've done in my professional life has led up to this," Owens says, walking me through the blueprints: open kitchen here, in-house chocolatier over there, 300 facings of wine, and aisles to be stocked with fresh produce and proteins, house-made pickles and charcuterie, and hard-to-find goodies. "I can't say that 10 years ago I necessarily saw myself taking this path, but in the last three to four years, definitely."
A year and a half in the making, Bee's Knees is a culmination of Owens's previous projects, like American Provisions in South Boston, a cheese and charcuterie haven built on his love of fromage, and his M3 restaurant in Somerville, a meaty homage to his hometown.
"I was always looking at alternative ways to source ingredients for my menu that weren't available to me, so what I'd like to do here is take that to the chefs of Boston," he explains. "Those things that you're searching for and you're ordering off an order guide? We want to have them."
Of course, a craving for specialty products isn't limited to professional kitchens. The mission of Bee's Knees extends far beyond that. A resident of South Boston for ten years, Owens wants his gourmet grocery to become an invaluable part of the Fort Point culinary fabric, a touchstone for the community. His decisions to focus on cooking classes and chef demonstrations, and to feature Blue Tierra Chocolate owner Jennifer Turner as an exclusively in-house chocolatier, are two components of an approach he says will take the store "beyond brick and mortar."