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From Zacatecas to El Sereno, Meet the 97-Year-Old Honey Man Who Is Quite Possibly L.A.’s Oldest Beekeeper

[dropcap size=big]E[/dropcap]verybody knows the Honey Man. Victor Jaramillo Soriano has been selling jars of honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly outside his home in El Sereno for 46 years. At 97, he is quite possibly the oldest beekeeper in L.A. and keeps alive a tradition that has been in his family for over 300 years. Growing up in Tepetongo, a small town in southwest Zacatecas, Soriano started working with bees when he was three years old.

 “My first job was to ring a little bell when they started to swarm," Soriano said of his childhood. "When the hives get too big, the colonies leave in droves, and we’d catch them and put them in bee boxes to start a new colony.”  

Soriano came to the U.S. in 1943 as a Bracero, a program that allowed Mexican citizens to take temporary agriculture work in the U.S. He harvested apples, oranges, pears, apricots, and peaches in Chico and other parts of Central California. In 1946, he moved to Lincoln Heights and eventually met up with his brother in El Sereno. He purchased cheap plots of land in the area, including one dotted with nopales that watched over Our Lady of Guadalupe Church like La Virgin herself. During this time, the same time when you can ride a red car trolley down Huntington Drive to downtown L.A. for five cents, Soriano birthed his bee yards. Though legalized in 2015, Soriano still has many secret spots in the neighborhood where he keeps bees, his front yard being the most accessible.

Victor Jaramillo selling bees outside his home in El Sereno.
Victor Jaramillo selling bees outside his home in El Sereno. Photo by Kamren Curiel for L.A. TACO.

Located on Huntington Drive, across the street from Veteran’s Monument Park, where the last tents from a once-bustling homeless encampment are pitched, Soriano’s honey is sold in recycled glass jars that sit on a metal cart shaded by two ficus trees. A framed fluorescent green poster with “Honey Bee Miel De Abeja” painted in hot pink letters is nailed to one of the trees. The El Sereno Branch Library and an old-school mariscos food truck are his neighbors. Driving or walking eastbound on the major thoroughfare that weaves from Lincoln Heights to Irwindale is the only way to access his goods, including honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, and wax. His best seller is the locally sourced amber honey that sells for anywhere from $5 to $100 (the $50 Kerr mason jars are collector’s items that date back to WWII), depending on the jar size, but royal jelly is perhaps the fountain of youth.  

“This is the magic right here,” his son John Jaramillo said of the small jar of royal jelly he keeps tightly sealed in Ziploc bags and tucked away in an ice chest. “Take a bean-size scoop of this before bed and let it dissolve underneath your tongue. It saved my friend’s marriage.”  

Jaramillo, 47, has been helping his father tend bees since he was 12. He went off to college and lived his life before returning to the business in November 2020. One of 15 kids Soriano had from two different marriages, Jaramillo said most of his siblings were drafted into beekeeping at a young age. He works the stand every day from 2 to 5 PM except Sundays, when they close up shop and relieves his Tia Goya, who sells from 10 to 2 PM. He puts a net around my head and leads me to the apiary, a bee yard that consists of handmade wooden bee hives stacked like Jenga that bees return to after traveling a two-mile radius to collect nectar. 

He speaks about his bees lovingly and understands them like he would a best friend. 

Honey is made from the nectar bees suck out of nearby flowers and store in their honey stomach (different from their food stomach). When they get full, they fly back to their hive and pass it on through their mouths to other worker bees, who chew it for about half an hour and pass it from bee to bee until it eventually turns into honey. The bees store it in honeycomb cells, tiny jars made of wax. Their wings fan it until it gets sticky, and when it's ready, the bees seal the cell with wax to keep it clean. Soriano shows off his handmade wooden hive frame still engraved with his original county registration number: B-149. 

Soriano ran another business on Huntington Drive with his brothers from about 1948 to 1985. Five Brothers Formica was a kitchen countertop shop that also sold honey. A carpenter for nearly 40 years, Soriano has always been a beekeeper at heart. He speaks about his bees lovingly and understands them like he would a best friend. 

Victor Jaramillo selling bees outside his home in El Sereno. Photo by Kamren Curiel for L.A. TACO.
Victor Jaramillo selling bees outside his home in El Sereno. Photo by Kamren Curiel for L.A. TACO.

“Bees are like women,” Soriano, who’s been separated from his second wife for 35 years, said. “If you mess with them, they declare war.” 

In November, he contracted COVID and was hospitalized at Huntington Memorial in Pasadena for eight days. He didn’t think he would make it and asked a nurse to call his son to get him. He wanted to die at home. 

“I told him if you survive this, I’ll be here every day,” Jaramillo said. “Well, here I am.”

But a severe case of coronavirus wasn’t all the veteran beekeeper battled. Five weeks later, doctors discovered two tumors in Soriano’s stomach, which had to be surgically removed in May. He’s since recovered and has no lingering COVID symptoms. 

Soriano still tends to his beloved bees, keeping the hives intact and harvesting the honey, a messy job that involves an extractor and a lot of bee stings. He walks without a cane or walker and credits honey for his youthful appearance. He drinks it in his tea every morning and prefers canela, manzanilla, or hierbabuena (spearmint) with eggs for breakfast. He doesn’t drink coffee and has never been a drinker or smoker. 

As for who will take over the honey stand when he’s gone, Tia Goya’s still working at 87, and Jaramillo said he or one of his five brothers are sure to carry on the legacy. 

Victor’s Honey

5236 Huntington Drive

Los Angeles, CA 90032

M-Sat. 9 to 5 PM

323-595-6103

This interview was translated to English by the author. 

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