By Brenda Young
LEANDER — When Bob Wolesensky was growing up in Nebraska, he came across a delicious snack that would set the stage for a lifelong love of beef jerky and eventually turn into a successful business with his wife and three children.
Wolesensky and his wife Tyree are the owners of Mahlon’s Microcrafted Beef Jerky in Leander, and they enlist the help of their three children at their manufacturing and production facility in the 2243 Business Park, just west of HEB Plus grocery store.
The Leander location was their first, having opened two years ago, and they recently closed their Liberty Hill retail outlet in March after 14 months of operation. The family has lived in Liberty Hill for eight years, and working out of one location allows them more time to focus on expanding their line of handcrafted beef jerky to wholesalers throughout the country.
“We wanted to focus our energies a little bit more,” said Mrs. Wolesensky. “Although we had the Liberty Hill store open a little more than a year, the Leander store has always been where we do the processing and manufacturing. Our next goal is to expand the wholesale division, where we want to approach other stores, specialty or retail, to have our products carried there.”
After graduating from college, Tyree worked for a bank in Denver where Bob’s company was a customer, so they met through their work and were married in 1994. They moved to Texas 16 years ago, and Mrs. Wolesensky said her involvement with Mahlon’s Microcrafted Beef Jerky was originally her husband’s idea, and she joined to support him and share his vision.
The couple’s three children — Christine, 18; Bobby, 15; and Corey, 13 — are no strangers to the family business. Christine works part-time in the store and will leave this fall to pursue a career in the medical field after graduating from Liberty Hill High School. She plans to attend Grand Canyon University in Phoenix to earn a degree in nursing. Meanwhile, her brothers enjoy helping out at Mahlon’s when they can.
“The boys help more in the summer. They think it’s fun and they’re excited about coming in, helping out, and being a part of the process. It gives them a sense of ownership,” Mrs. Wolesensky said. Although they stay busy, she said they enjoy their work/life balance. “We really enjoy the small town feel of Liberty Hill, where you know who your neighbors are, who everyone is, and we like the size of the school district.”
Her husband’s early career began as an attorney, and in 2001, he purchased the indoor division of Dynamic Sports Construction, which he continues to operate in addition to his role in sales and business strategy at Mahlon’s. Wolesensky’s first taste of success was 35 years ago when he ventured into a neighboring community five miles from his Nebraska home to visit a butcher shop owned by Mahlon Kohl.
“Over the years, whether as an attorney or a business owner, I traveled a lot, and beef jerky is one of those kinds of snacks you eat when you travel because it’s healthy, low fat and has a lot of protein,” he said. “I’ve eaten beef jerky all over the place, and Mahlon’s was always the best. A few years back, we decided to approach Mahlon to see about working with him, with his recipes and formulas, to set up a USDA approved jerky we could sell nationwide.”
The approval process took quite a bit of time, as USDA compliance doesn’t come easily, but that was alright with Wolesensky.
“In the beef jerky industry, if you want to do it legally, which is the only way we would do it, you have to get USDA approval. Compliance is stringent, and that’s good, because we all want to ensure food safety,” he said. “He’s (Mahlon) very, very excited and wanted to see us get to where we want, which is to get it where it’s known nationally, not just locally or regionally.”
According to Mrs. Wolesensky, Mahlon’s three additional employees also feel like family.
Annie Pogue worked at the Liberty Hill location and specializes in retail marketing, and high school students Dakota Gibson and Aspen Ponton work part-time and will also graduate this year. Mrs. Wolesensky said it’s important to them to employee locally, and they enjoy working with students around their busy schedules.
Customers also take part in the success of Mahlon’s by making suggestions and providing feedback when it comes to producing more than 20 popular flavors and select styles of packages available from the Leander store and online sales.
The Wolesenskys believe the flavors they produce are the best they’ve ever tasted, and they attribute that to the process — Mahlon’s beef jerky is handcrafted and not mass produced. As they learn and grow through the process, they are glad their whole family takes part in the success of their business.
“The most important thing is just having the quality time — being able to work and still spend time with them and instill family values in the kids while they’re still young,” Mrs. Wolesensky said.