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Women at work: Mary-Wommack Barton Tatum, corporate attorney & chocolatier

Women at work: Mary-Wommack Barton Tatum, corporate attorney & chocolatier

Ever wonder what it’s like to walk a day in someone else’s shoes (or spend a day in someone else’s job, as the case may be)? Us too! In our “Women at work” series, we’re talking to some of the most accomplished women we know about how they got to where they are in their careers, what advice they’d give their younger selves, and any tips & tricks they’ve picked up along the way.

The basics:
Name? Mary-Wommack Barton Tatum
Job? Corporate transactional attorney & chocolatier at The Barton Table
Age? 34
College major? Art History and Psychology

The nitty-gritty:
What does your typical work day look like?
I usually start my work day at around 9:30am. I find that you can control when you come in, but not when you leave, so I work out and clean up around the house in the morning. As with any job, no day looks exactly the same. I generally do a lot of emailing and fretting about my exploding inbox. I sometimes feel like a professional emailer.

A big part of my job is drafting documents — anything from simple formation documents for a friend who is going into the restaurant business to an asset purchase agreement for a larger client rolling up a smaller technology company. I also usually have a couple of client calls or calls with counsel for someone on the opposite side of a transaction. My favorite is when I get to meet a new startup client and learn all about their business. I love hearing their stories and guiding them through the startup process. Because I do transactional work, things are very cyclical. If we have a big deal going, I will be going 90 mph from early until late, but if things are quiet, I might get to leave at 6:00pm to walk the dogs and help with dinner. Lawyers are service providers, so we do not always control our own schedules.

In addition to your day job, you also have a side business, The Barton Table, tell us how you got started there?
The Barton Table is my own little startup. We make awesome chocolate sauces, which we sell in stores around Austin and online. I love to cook and I have always made my mom’s special chocolate sauce for my friends at dinner parties. One night when I had some friends over, I was complaining about work and one of them said, “You should just sell your chocolate sauce.” The next day, I bought a few books on Amazon about how to start your own food business. I had NO idea what I was doing. I started playing with recipes, trying to come up with a name and asking anyone who knew anything about selling a food product if I could take them to lunch.

Austin has a really great community of makers, so once I put the word out, a whole world of helpful resources opened up. The idea phase lasted for maybe a year and a half. I finally closed my eyes and took the plunge about three years ago when I signed up for a small business class and hired a designer for my label. From there, it has grown slowly, but surely. It’s been crazy, but so much fun.

How do you balance the demands of your full-time job with running your own business?
Sometimes well, sometimes not so well. A lot of my fun time is Barton Table time. It really is my release and I love learning about the business, from food safety to Quickbooks to where the heck you buy a bar code, so it doesn’t feel like work. My husband and I cook in a commercial kitchen on weekends and we recruit our family and friends to help. I have friends who help cook, label, run errands, and take pictures. It’s so incredible how supportive everyone has been. I do as much Barton Table as I can after work and on the weekends when things are not crazy at work.

I have also made the decision to focus mostly on the holidays for selling Barton Table, which makes things much more manageable than trying to go, go, go all year. (You can use the code “HOLIDAYSALE” for 10% off your purchase of $20 or more on the website.) That being said, the holidays can be pretty hectic because I have found that you can just never plan for everything and our law firm tends to have a lot of deals that need to close by Dec. 31. Eek! This year, we have finally hired a couple of people to help out on the side with some marketing and logistics, which has been a big relief.

Have you ever thought about taking on The Barton Table as a full-time gig?
On the one hand, I would love to because it is so much fun for me, but on the other, I would have to sell a lot of chocolate sauce to support myself, which would make it less fun and more stressful. I also love my law firm and being able to help other business owners. I will probably try to do both for as long as I can.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about starting their own business?
I would say to make a lot of lunch dates! Tell everyone about your idea and let them connect you with helpful people, who will connect you with more helpful people. People love to share their stories and what they know, so you do not need to reinvent the wheel on pretty much anything. Someone has done it already and is happy to tell you all about it.

What advice would you give your 25-year old self about navigating your own career?
I would tell 25-year-old Mary-Wommack to step back, take a deep breath and really think about what she wants her life to look like. I enjoy being a lawyer and have lucked out with a great law firm, but I landed here with more luck than forethought. Both of my parents are lawyers, so I knew what that looked like.

I figured that no one wanted to hire a Psychology/Art History major right out of college and I needed to be able to support myself, so I went to law school and then just followed the traditional path – study, study, study, summer clerkships, judicial clerkship, big law firm, smaller law firm. I knew I did not want to litigate, so I did one of the two non-litigation practices at my first law firm.

I was just trying to keep my head above water and never really took the time to step back and think about all of my options, the familiar and the far-fetched. The Barton Table was the first time that I really did that and it has been awesome.

Who have been your biggest role models in your career?
I work with a close-knit, fantastic group of lawyers. They are 100% willing to sit down and talk things through with me, no matter how busy they are, which is huge. Huge. I also learn a ton from sitting in on calls and meetings with them, from practical knowledge to how they problem-solve with a client to how they get a grumpy opposing counsel to lighten up.

On the chocolate sauce front, I am really lucky to live next door to a guy named Anish Sheth, another (former) lawyer who started a company called World Peas a few years ago. He is super bright and knows the specialty food industry really well. I write down pretty much everything he says. I also participate in a group called ATX Makers, which is a little community of small food businesses in Austin. They are a wealth of knowledge and encouragement.

Quick fires:
Favorite ice cream flavor? Amy’s Ice Cream Mexican Vanilla
Your dessert specialty to impress friends? I just go classic and serve chocolate sauce with vanilla ice cream. Maybe we crush up some cookies to throw on top. You really can’t beat it.
If you could magically learn any new skill, what would it be? Accounting. I need it for both jobs and I never took a class!
What did you want to be when you grew up as a child? First, a pig farmer because I loved pigs. Then I learned the fate of the pig farm pigs and wanted to be a Fly Girl on In Living Color.
Top 5 favorite follows in Instagram? The Dogist, The Skimm, National Geographic, Pumpkin the Raccoon and a bunch of awesome Austin food companies like Nada Moo and Hot Dang
Best book you’ve read this year? The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. I was late to the game, but it’s amazing.