Alexis Freudenberger says it ever-so-casually, and your first instinct is to cry hyperbole. Then you realize where you are (sitting in a booth at her family’s popular breakfast restaurant) and who you’re talking to:
“There’s syrup in my veins.”
See, Freudenberger didn’t just occasionally pop into her family’s restaurant before school to devour a free short stack or bus tables part time in her teenage years to earn a couple of bucks. No, she quite literally grew up inside The Original Pancake House.
After her parents were awarded the Nevada territorial rights of the Portland, Oregon-based franchise, they moved from Boca Raton, Florida, and opened their first store a few miles west of the Las Vegas Strip in August 1995; some five months later, Alexis was born. In the ensuing 17 years, Stephan Freudenberger — a native of Frankfurt, Germany, who came to America in the late 1980s to attend college and earn his master’s degree in international business — and his wife, Kim, opened six additional Original Pancake Houses across the Las Vegas Valley.
The one fixture at all of them? Alexis (and, later, younger brother Evan).
As an infant, she slept in a crib in the back office; as a rambunctious toddler, she made her presence known each morning in the dining room; and as an adolescent, she went to “work” serving customers water, then coffee refills, then plates of butter and syrup. “First time I was handed one of those plates, my hands were shaking so much that I dropped it and it shattered,” she recalled. “I remember exactly where I was standing when it happened. But those were the pivotal moments in my life.”
To say the least. While many kids who are raised in a restaurant environment can’t wait to reach an age when they can fly 180 degrees in an opposite direction, Alexis Freudenberger hasn’t just “fallen into” the family business, she’s warmly embraced it: Now 25, she pulls double duty as the general manager and office manager at the lone remaining Pancake House on the outskirts of Summerlin.
But even as she acknowledges that “my world is breakfast; it’s what I know and I love it,” you don’t need a telescope to see that Freudenberger’s interests and worldview are hardly one-dimensional. For instance, in 2014 she departed her lifelong hometown to attend the University of Utah, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications. Post-graduation, she spent nearly two years in Berlin doing marketing for a catering company and helping to open and operate several pop-up restaurants. And now, she’s wrapping up her first year of graduate studies at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality.
The goal with respect to the latter endeavor? Broaden her knowledge of an industry that’s closely connected to her family’s business — and perhaps even ignite a new passion.
“I’ve always been interested in the entire hospitality industry — it’s fascinating, it’s my speed, it’s my kind of people,” Freudenberger said. “So when I decided to pursue my master’s in that field, naturally UNLV was the best choice — not just because I live here but because it’s a world-renowned program. Why would you not go to UNLV if you wanted to study hospitality?”
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced Freudenberger to adapt to an online-only education environment — not to mention adapt, with her father’s help, the daily operations at the Pancake House — she says her first year in the program went smoothly, with coursework focusing on such fields as gaming, hotel operations, and food and beverage. Despite a grueling schedule that begins at 6 a.m. at the Pancake House and ends late at night with hours of studying, she’s found the master’s program exhilarating.
“You get the feeling that everything you’re learning, you’re going to use,” Freudenberger said. “This isn’t learning trigonometry or something that you’re never going to need again. This is information the industry wants you to know and (immediately) apply when you get out of the program. Everything you learn, you think, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to use this later!’ because you know it’s valuable.”
As for what “later” will entail, it’s too soon to say. Freudenberger admits to being “fascinated” by casino operations, but she’s also eager to learn about all facets of tourism. Could she someday see herself relinquishing the reigns of the family business and perhaps pivoting into an entirely different segment of hospitality? Or is the syrup that runs through her veins so thick that she envisions a lifelong career running breakfast restaurants?
The answer to both questions, for now, is … yes and yes.
“I’m trying to learn as much about the (hospitality) industry as I can to see if I’m a better fit somewhere else,” she said. “As much as I love the restaurant industry, before I settle down, pick a career, and do the same thing for the rest of my life, I’d like to be sure that there’s nothing else that I would rather be doing.”
“This [the Pancake House] will always be here; my dad won’t give this up anytime soon. So this is always going to be an option if I want it.”
With that, she reaches across the table for the syrup. At 25, she still has plenty of time to figure out her future. Right now, there’s another short stack to dive into.