Work Hard, Eat Well – Stacy Mikolajcyk

rhd Ranch House Journal, RHD Blog

By Shelby Mettlen
Beef fuels one San Antonio-area businesswoman’s family, lifestyle and career.

“Work hard, eat well,” is the phrase Stacy Mikolajcyk applies to both her career and her daily life. As a Texas A&M University graduate, full-time business owner, part-time rancher, Crossfit enthusiast, avid outdoorswoman and mother, it’s a phrase that suits her life well. Stacy and her husband, Jason, own and operate North Creek Smoke House, a retailer of traditional beef jerky products near San Antonio, Texas.

The pair purchased North Creek Smoke House four years ago from a family friend who started the business in 1981. Ready to retire, he handed the reins over to Stacy and Jason. Both have backgrounds in meat science; Stacy earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science while competing on the meats judging team at A&M and later went on to earn her master’s degree in animal science with a focus in meats. Anxious, but enthusiastic and ready for the challenge, Stacy and Jason jumped right in.

Getting started

When it came time to choose a career path, Stacy’s strong background in agriculture and love for animals and the outdoors told her where to begin. With a keen interest in business and accounting, she took off down the path of agribusiness. She soon changed her course.

“I knew I wanted to be in the field of agriculture,” she says. “As I went along in college I realized the meats thing is pretty cool.”

Following graduation, Stacy provided quality assurance and product development for Texas grocery chain H-E-B and then Kiolbassa, a smaller family-owned company specializing in smoked-sausage products.

Stacy’s role with Kiolbassa may have been the turning point in her career. She describes President and CEO Michael Kiolbassa as a mentor to her and her husband in their own business.

“I learned a tremendous amount working there because [Michael] invested so much time in us as employees,” she says. “The financial training and open-book policy helped give me the confidence, when this opportunity came along, to start this business.”

Stacy’s natural leadership immediately struck Kiolbassa.

“The great thing about Stacy is she’s got the intellectual skills and acumen, she’s extraordinarily smart and she’s got very strong people skills. You don’t find that in a lot of people,” he says. “She came in and led our team, as opposed to changing and dictating things.”

After several years with Kiolbassa, Stacy and Jason began the process of building their own business.

“The steps have just fallen into place,” Stacy says. “Some things just happen at the right time.”

Serving the community and industry

Jason was the first to start full-time with North Creek Smoke House, but Stacy took the plunge about a year ago after working part-time in food-safety auditing to bridge the gap.

“To go from two full-time salaries to none is a scary endeavor,” she says.

Stacy loves supporting local businesses like her own. She and Jason own a few head of registered Herefords themselves, and Stacy says she enjoys working with local ranchers who bring in their own beef for jerky.

“That direct selling helps people get back in touch with the industry,” she says. “Connecting the industry to the consumer is a benefit to everyone.”

Stacy and Jason employ a handful of high school and college students in their shop each summer. The pair views the students’ help as key experience for future careers.

“That’s what we really enjoy,” Stacy says. “It’s fun for us to be able to give them some experience in food safety and in the meat industry.”

Stacy recently completed her term as board chair with the Southwest Meat Association (SMA), where she had served previously as a board member and officer. Association President Joe Harris says Stacy’s absence from the board will “leave behind some very large shoes to fill.”

“Stacy is forward thinking and has been instrumental in guiding SMA through an unprecedented period of expansion and financial stability,” he says. “The same dedication and leadership ability that make her an asset to SMA have led to her success in starting and growing her own small business.”

Former graduate studies advisor and Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor Jeff Savell calls Stacy “unshakeable.”

“She may debate that,” he admits, “but to the outside observer, she’s just able to go with the flow, work with diverse groups of people and not let things get in her way of getting things done. She just has this quiet determination.”

Promoting agriculture

Stacy and Jason love their business, but they’re also active outside their work. Together, they’ve participated in Crossfit for almost a decade.

“It’s changed the way I approach health and fitness in general, but it’s also really helped me change how I look at myself,” Stacy says.

With their business, a growing ranch and intense workouts, “we’re always going,” she says. “That’s where the jerky comes in.”

A two-ounce package provides 18 grams of protein. That’s something Stacy wants a very different audience to understand: mothers with growing children.

“I get questions about beef all the time,” she says. “I enjoy being able to communicate to my friends — to other mothers — what we do. I think women listen to each other.”

Stacy blogs about her business, Crossfit adventures and rural life, and enjoys social media.

“I love being able to communicate what we’re doing and share it with our audience,” she says. Blogging and social media help engage her audience and reach new ones.

As a woman and business owner in agriculture, Stacy loves communicating her passion to others. “I’m telling other women we’re doing a lot of good here. We care about our animals, we care about our products, we care about the people who eat our products, and we care that we produce a good, wholesome product.”

“There are a lot of smart people in the world, but there are not a lot of great leaders,” Kiolbassa says. “Stacy is a great leader.”