Pokey O’s owners share their journey with students

Owner of Pokey O's, Austin Meek, and his wife, Julia, tell the story of how Pokey O's came to be during the Confessions of an Entrepreneur speaker series. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Journalist

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

Austin and Julia Meek, owners of Pokey O’s Waco, shared the lessons they’ve learned from small business ownership with the next generation of potential entrepreneurs.

The couple, who have turned their mobile cookie and ice cream trucks into a Waco staple since 2015, spoke at Tuesday’s installment of Confessions of an Entrepreneur. The lecture series is hosted by Baylor’s John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise and features business owners and their stories.

“A confession to start off: I am not a business major,” Austin Meek said. Though the pair now own their own business and are seeking to expand into other ventures, neither are what he called “business people in the way that you might think of business people.”

The Meeks’ Pokey O’s story starts with Julia working at the original Pokey O’s in Dallas while in high school. She said the owners became “like a second family” to her, and she continued to work for them during breaks while attending Baylor from 2006 to 2010. Though the owners encouraged her to start a Pokey O’s shop in Waco during this time, she said “it just never felt right.” Then, shortly after getting married in 2015 and moving to Waco while Austin attended law school, the plan came to fruition.

“One thing I hear when Julia is telling her story is that the path was sort of paved for her,” Austin Meek said. “The fact of the matter was she was only in that position because she had put in that hard work before… The throughline for any profession is that if you’re not putting in the work there’s just no way that you’re going to achieve the results that you want.”

Julia Meek also said hard work and dedication is paramount to running a successful small business, which is a lesson she had to learn from experience.

“The hardest lesson I’ve learned is how a small business can really take over your life,” Julia Meek said. “Like something goes wrong you have to deal with it, there’s no shutting off at a certain time.

Instead of competing with existing bakeries or ice cream shops, the Pokey O’s concept was reworked into a food truck for the Waco market. The Meek’s credit much of their success to exploiting an unfilled niche in the community, standing out from potential competitors by offering a unique experience and building a following on social media. Kansas City, Kan. Senior Layne Bowser said the lesson of differentiating oneself from competitors was her biggest takeaway.

“I thought the way he was talking about branding was interesting, how Pepsi always compares itself to Coke so you always end up thinking about Coke,” Bowser said. “They kind of almost most themselves up that way… Being aware of who you’re comparing yourself to.”

Making use of resources and connections in the local community can be a lifeline for small businesses. Julia Meek said while working on the necessary licensing and certifications to start Pokey O’s, she sat down with a city employee who walked her through every requirement for operating a food truck. Austin freshman Zach Harper said building and taking advantage of connections is a point he’s also heard emphasized in his business classes.

“[My biggest takeaway was] working with the city to help you get your business going,” Harper said. “It’s one of the biggest points in pretty much every business class I’ve taken: making connections.”

Bowser attended previous Confessions of an Entrepreneur lectures before Tuesday. An aspiring entrepreneur herself, Bowser said the lecture series has shown her valuable behind-the-scenes looks at what owning a business is like.

“I’ve always had a dream of starting my own business so I like coming to these [to see] the reality behind business owners,” Bowser said. “You don’t have to have a concrete plan necessarily going into it. It’s important to have a good idea and good preparation but not to overthink that, and to give yourself grace and time.”