Roanoke alumna puts her business degree to real-world use at a startup energy bar company.
This article was featured in the Roanoke Magazine, Issue 2, 2013. The full issue can be seen here.
Stephanie Melnik '09 departed Southwest Virginia a scant two weeks after graduating from Roanoke College, heading west to San Francisco, where her sister Leah had moved three years prior.
Leah Melnik, an avid runner and health-conscious eater who struggled to find a healthful energy bar to her liking, had been tinkering with the task of making her own. After moving to California, Stephanie stepped right alongside her sister in the kitchen and "jumped on board" the making and selling of what they now proudly call "Awesome Bars."
Then a fledgling, small-scale endeavor, Awesome Bars today is a flourishing startup with its granola bars sold in 140 coffee shops and natural food stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, in Washington, D.C., and in the Roanoke Valley - at the Roanoke College Bookstore, Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea and Froth, a Roanoke cafe and coffee shop. The bars also can be purchased on youcantfakeawesome.com.
"All of this just began as a hobby - something fun to do on weekends," Stephanie Melnik says. "We started sharing [Awesome Bars] with family and friends who encouraged us to take them to an underground farmer's market that caters to people who cook out of home kitchens."
The sisters, with friends Annie Almanza and Autumn Valjien, now do everything from mixing batches of preservative-free granola goodness (flavors include apricot walnut, blueberry almond, cherry almond, coconut pecan, cranberry trail and salty peanut) in their little "granola factory" (a rented industrial kitchen in San Francisco) to packaging bars by hand in biodegradable wrapping, to delivering the product to customers.
All of which Stephanie finds completely and satisfyingly awesome.
An economics major with a marketing concentration while at Roanoke, she is thrilled at the opportunity to put her education to real-world use.
"I did the Innovation Challenge, working with entrepreneurs and helping them write a business plan," says Melnik, referring to the College-based program in which participants develop a comprehensive business plan for a new product innovation. "Oddly enough, that was kind of a practice run for what I'm doing now. I'm happy putting my degree to good use - every step of the way."
Stephanie thanks Dr. Edward Nik-Khah, associate professor of economics, and Dr. Ali Nazemi, professor of business administration and economics, for equipping her with the tools needed to effectively market and distribute the product.
"Every day I'm analyzing how to situate our brands in various coffee shops, analyzing supply and demand," she says. "My experience at Roanoke College was invaluable to what I'm doing now. All those tools have been instrumental to our success so far."
Melnik says business is in her blood. Her father, Ted Melnik, former president of Novozymes Biologicals subsidiary in Roanoke, is a widely respected business and community leader in the Roanoke and New River valleys. It has been said that he was a major factor in creating an aura of confidence in the region's entrepreneurial community.
Not surprising then, that Stephanie Melnik says her father "groomed me to follow in his footsteps."
"I was going out every day and walking into a new coffee shop, making connections with owners," the former Girl Scout cookie seller says. "It's what gets me out of bed in the morning."
- Leslie Taylor