Z Specialty Food is family owned and operated gourmet food business located in Woodland, CA. Founded in 1979, Z Specialty Food is a pioneer for varietal honey and home to Island of the Moon Apiaries and Moon Shine Trading Co., all based at The HIVE, the first varietal honey and mead tasting room of its kind.
Ishai's grandmother opened Zeldner's Wild Game Center in 1929 and was the only certified wild game dealer between Chicago and New York. Ishai's father worked in the store, while his grandfather continued a career as a potter at Buffalo Pottery. Taking his father's lead, Ishai started working in the family business when he was just eight years old. For over 50 years, Zeldner's served the people of Buffalo with a standard grocery selection, fresh produce, meats and a growing specialty section of soul food and wild game. "You name it, we sold it," remarks Ishai Zeldner.
After graduating from college, Ishai decided to pursue adventure by living on a Kibbutz in Israel. For nine months, six days a week were split between learning Hebrew and working on the kibbutz, mostly in the fields. He immediately felt at home on Kibbutz Beit HaShita, a cooperative community that not only raised fish and cattle for consumption but grew agricultural products such as cotton, melon, grapefruit and olives. It also produced honey.
On the Kibbutz, all members shared the burden of work, whether it be harvesting, food preparation, or childcare. Ishai was no exception, and spent time "harvesting fish from frigid cold fish ponds, stomping cotton using [our] bodies to cram down the voluminous spongy cotton balls, picking olives all day long on tall ladders, picking grapefruits early on a winter's cool morning, the rain dripping from the leaves, soaking whatever we wore, and moving bees in the wee hours of the night."
Although beekeeping was brand new to him, Ishai took to it like a natural, and Yosef Gidron, the kibbutz beekeeper, noticed. Soon, Yosef asked Ishai to be his assistant, and he became a friend and mentor. While Ishai may not have known it at the time, his future career path had begun. It was an opportunity to learn beekeeping from a master, and Ishai worked with and learned from Yosef throughout four bee seasons. When asked about his half-century love affair with honeybees, Ishai said, "My mentor kept bees 'til he was 90. That's my role model."
In 1978, Ishai worked as a commercial beekeeper in Northern California, finding a mentor in Clarence Wenner, a legendary master beekeeper and queen breeder. In 1979, he drove the Zeldner store's old delivery van across the country to study at one of the most well-established honey bee research facilities in the country, University of California, Davis. He attended classes in queen rearing, beekeeping and agriculture.
During his time at UC Davis, Ishai was introduced to varietal honeys, and became particularly fond of Yellow Star Thistle Honey. He loved it so much that he began giving it away to his friends, and quickly realized he was going broke doing so. Thus, Moon Shine Trading Company was started with 180 pounds of pure Yellow Star Thistle Honey packed in canning jars. His friends pitched in to bottle and label the jars in his front yard. In May of 1980, Ishai moved to Winters to soak up the country life. He began to bottle Moon Shine Trading Company's California Yellow Star Thistle Honey at his home on an abandoned apricot orchard outside of town. In 1981, Amina Harris, also a Buffalo native, moved to Winters to join Ishai and follow her own craftiness as an incredible seamstress and soft sculpture artist. She hand-cut the fabric that decorated the lids of Moon Shine Trading Company's first pint, quart and half gallon jars.
In 1982, Amina Harris & Ishai Zeldner were married. Their first child, Shoshana, followed several years later, at which point Moon Shine Trading Company was happily at home in a 1500 square-foot warehouse in downtown Winters.
The next big development in the history of our business and family came with the birth of Josh in 1986. While in college, he did not think much about joining the family business, something changed for him after he graduated, and he returned home to join Ishai.
As local, national and international support for Moon Shine Trading Company's family of products grew, so did the need to find a new home. After a long search throughout Yolo County, we moved into a 4,000 square foot commercial space in Woodland. With this huge increase in square footage, we never thought we would fill it up, but after just 15 years we were bursting at the seams. From there, we moved into a 9,000 square foot facility in Woodland.
Now, over 40 years later, we are the same family operating Z Specialty Food. Ishai is no longer with us, having passed away of cancer in 2018. Josh, otherwise known around here as "Nectar Director," has taken over all aspects of the business, though his mother, Amina Harris, and sister, Shoshi Zeldner, are both very much involved.
In 2021, we opened The HIVE, a 20,000 square foot sustainable educational learning center with the largest selection of honey and mead in California. We just opened our HIVE kitchen, featuring high quality, local produce. Enjoy food and drinks in the outdoor courtyard, featuring 2 acres of pollinator gardens. Dogs are welcomed!