Written and Photos by Cam Robertson
In 2015, Mark Ponchak planted his first lavender plant on a whim. Eight years later, what started as a quirky experiment grew into a robust lavender operation featuring over 800 plants.
A box of old mail—that conveniently had some lavender enclosed— inspired Ponchak to plant his first plot of lavender.
“I open this [box] up, and there’s sprigs of lavender in it. [The sprigs] have been in a box, in an attic for 15 years, and still smell like they were just planted. It was perfect, so I was like that’s what we’re going to plant,” Ponchak says.
That one piece of mail kickstarted the next decade of Ponchak’s life, as five plants grew into more. People began buying lavender from him, and he decided to pursue farming as a business.
A year later, Ponchak and his husband, Nick Jenior, moved to McConnelsville, Ponchak’s hometown. They planted larger plots on his family farm to test the business out. Two test plots have become a farm and an accompanying gift shop, Bellavenue Manor.
Located in what appears to be a normal house from the outside, the shop is filled with the inviting scent of lavender and an array of art and other products.
“I think [with the shop] we get to share our story. Coming back to Mark’s hometown. . . and getting to put our roots in the community where he grew up,” said Jenior.
The shop’s logo features two squirrels holding hands, in front of a heart, with one of them wearing a gray cap. Customers who enter the store will soon find out those squirrels represent Ponchak and Jenior.
The couple make and sell bundles of different varieties of dried lavender, as well as lavender infused products, and soaps and lotions made from goat milk.
The shop features local art from Ponchak’s friends and crystals from a crystal healer who operates on the floor above. Everything at Bellavenue Manor is made and sourced locally, from the variety of products to the local art.
“I definitely wanted [a shop] that was no stress, no pressure. I mean, its lavender,” Ponchak notes as he shrugs his shoulders. “People should just come in and be at home. It’s cool, I like it.”
Ponchak sells his products online via his Etsy shop. They also appear in several other brick and mortar shops around Southeast Ohio, including Chesterhill, Zanesville and Athens.
Despite having a variety of products, Ponchak wants the patrons of his store to have an immersive shopping experience and to use their senses when they shop—encouraging them to touch and smell his products.
Bellavenue Manor also carries a variety of trial bottles of lotions and scents located around the shop, so people can try products at a lower cost.
“I encourage everybody to pick everything up,” Ponchak mentioned as he himself picked up a few products. “Pick it up, look at it, it doesn’t mean you have to buy anything. Just have a moment with the place.”