The Balancing Act

May 12, 2022
Stephanie Janousek Blog Photo
The Balancing Act

With determination and grit, Stephanie Janousek is making steady progress toward her OMBA degree while running a growing business and parenting three young daughters.

Every student enrolled in Baylor’s top-ranked Online MBA (OMBA) program navigates the challenges of juggling coursework with a full-time job. For new parents like Stephanie Janousek, there are even more balls to keep in the air. Stephanie never expected to be an MBA student, business owner and homeschooling parent at the same time, but she is embracing the adventure of this season of life.

A Novel Concept

A native of New Braunfels, Texas, Stephanie grew up attending fairs and conventions with her parents, both of whom worked in the industry. She ventured north to earn a degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame, but she always planned to move home and launch her own company one day. After two years of working in the marketing department of Overstock.com, she decided to take a pause and consider her next steps. As timing would have it, she spotted an opportunity to return to her roots when attending a convention with her parents.

At the convention, she spotted a group of South Korean vendors who were selling a unique spiral potato cutter. “Essentially, this device lets you stretch a fried potato over a stick like a slinky,” Stephanie said.

The concept had caught on in countries like South Korea and South Africa, but it had yet to become a staple at the U.S. events she frequented. She created a version of the spiral potato treat called the “Tater Twister” and made it the focal point of a food trailer concept that also featured Texas-style BBQ. In 2009, Fun Biz Concessions was born.

In another twist of fate, Stephanie met her husband, Nate, during one of the very first events where she sold her concessions. Nate joined the business and helped Stephanie achieve exponential growth as they frequented state fairs, festivals, rodeos, conventions and other local events. Over time, they expanded from one food truck to a fleet of more than 40 and hired approximately 30 full-time employees. While growing their business, they grew their family to include two daughters, Audrey and Sophia. Their dreams and aspirations were limited only by the number of hours in a day.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Making a Pivot

Stephanie and Nate were in the middle of providing concessions for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo when they received the news that everything was cancelled. Stuck with a massive quantity of food and nowhere to sell it for the foreseeable future, they entered a season of crisis.

“The pandemic threw our business into turmoil,” said Stephanie. “We had a few weeks of panic before picking ourselves up and figuring out how to stay afloat.”

Between Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans and a handful of events that returned quickly after the onset of the pandemic, the business managed to survive.

To make the most of the downturn, Stephanie decided to pursue a lifelong dream of earning an MBA degree. She knew she would need to complete her classes online, given her commitments as a business owner and parent. The Baylor OMBA program’s high national ranking caught her eye, and the deal was sealed when she called her banker, a Baylor alumnus, to ask for advice.

“He was so excited I was considering the opportunity,” she said. “It was always something I planned to do, and this was my chance.”

Stephanie entered the OMBA program in August 2020. Nearly 15 years had passed since she was an undergraduate student, and she realized how much she had missed being in an academic environment.

“It felt so good to re-awaken certain areas of my brain and learn from people outside my own industry,” she said.

Several years ago, Stephanie and Nate expanded their business operations to include the Hangar & Backyard Steakout Craft Beer & Food Hall, a portable food court located inside a building at the Minnesota State Fair and the State Fair of Texas. Adding this undertaking to the mix only increased the number of hats that Stephanie wears as she handles bookkeeping, transportation logistics, human resourcing, funding acquisition and event management tasks.

“My classes at Baylor have helped me hone the skills I have acquired over the years, particularly in finance and accounting, while helping me identify ways to structure business operations more efficiently and communicate better with my management team,” Stephanie said. “I am constantly learning something relevant for our business.”

Adjusting to a New Reality

At the end of her spring 2021 term, Stephanie learned she was pregnant again. She remembers thinking, “Ok, this will really make it interesting! I better fit a few more classes in first.” Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. Stephanie went on bedrest before delivering her third daughter, Olivia, several months prematurely. Olivia spent five weeks in the NICU after her birth.

“Baylor has been so supportive throughout it all,” said Stephanie. “What I have appreciated most is the flexibility to take classes when I can and take breaks for myself and my family.”

When she had to withdraw from her planned class in the fall, the OMBA staff mailed her a Baylor onesie and assured her she could resume the program whenever she felt capable.

Olivia is now thriving at seven months old, and Stephanie has put her foot on the gas pedal once again. Her older two daughters are in a hybrid homeschool arrangement, so she spends most of her mornings homeschooling or driving them to school.

Then, with the help of nannies and other childcare support, she squeezes in as many hours of work as she can in the afternoons and evenings. While Nate handles most of the face-to-face interaction with customers and vendors, Stephanie works from home doing what she calls a “back of house” role. Their company recently operated as the sole food and beverage vendor for Cheyenne Frontier Days, a world- famous rodeo event with more than 200,000 people in attendance, a milestone that has inspired them to pursue more opportunities to take over entire events.

Finally, once the kids are in bed, Stephanie turns her attention to her OMBA coursework. She has completed seven classes with a GPA of 4.0 and hopes to graduate at the end of 2023.“That is the goal, but I have to stay flexible and adaptable,” she said.

While she maintains a positive attitude, the long, action-packed days are undeniably exhausting and unpredictable. "It’s really hard, but I just take it one day at a time,” she said. “I can feel myself growing stronger—as a business owner, as a manager of people, and as a parent. I’m grateful for this time of growth.”

What's Next

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