Updated: Jul 11
Bananas Foster for breakfast? Yes, please! Oatmeal and Company is making boring bowls of oatmeal a thing of the past.
While working at headquarters for a high-end grocery retailer in 2018, Darian Washington brought home a sample of overnight oats for her son Derrick, who loves oatmeal — I mean LOVES it. Less than pleased with the sample, he asked if they could try their hand at making their own. The first flavor they came up with was a hazelnut apricot. He ate the oats the next morning and said, "Mom, I think we're on to something!" The mother and son duo created a few more recipes and started the process of applying for an LLC while submitting applications to their local farmer's market. In 2019 Oatmeal and Company was created.
“At the time, Darian thought this would be a side hustle that would make life a little more comfortable — she never intended for this to be the thing that “saved” them.”
Darian’s journey thus far wasn't an easy one. Her childhood was tumultuous and unstable. Growing up, her mother was a bartender and struggling single parent of two children. A self-described “latchkey kid” and the primary caregiver to her newborn little brother Adrian at eight years old, she remained his primary keeper well into adulthood. When she left home, her brother lived with her until he was 19. She says that throughout that time, her grandfather was her constant. He saved them from homelessness and uncertainty numerous times, always coming to their rescue. He also was a small business owner and gave Darian her first job as a child. At seven years old, she would clean her grandfather’s office or do her twin uncles’ laundry for extra cash. “I can remember cleaning my grandfather’s office for money to go to Six Flags the next day and forgetting to dust his stereo console. After I thought I was done, I called him into the office to see that it was clean and pay up.” She said he then took a piece of tissue and wiped the console to show her the job was incomplete. Looking her straight in her face, he said, “You’re not finished, and I’m not paying you until it’s done. Remember, baby, if you put the best in, you’ll get the best out. Now do your best!” She took his words to heart and often recites them to her own son.
After high school, she took a customer service job with Bank of America as a collections agent but developed carpal tunnel syndrome. After leaving that job, she became pregnant. Making the tough decision to become a mother during a difficult period in her life, she took other jobs in customer service. First for eHarmony and then a full-time position at DS Waters, a water home delivery service, looking for a way to provide for her newborn son. In 2007, a childhood friend helped her get an interview at Warner Bros. Home Video for a temporary position as an order management representative. She remembers the hiring manager asking her, "Why should I hire you?" She told them about her dire situation and that she was the one taking the real risk because she was leaving a temporary full-time position with benefits for another temporary opportunity. The manager informed her that she had temps that had been there anywhere from two weeks to eight years, but Darian didn't care. She was making sixteen dollars an hour at DS Waters, but Warner Bros. was paying twenty-four dollars an hour. At this time, she was supporting her son, her little brother, her mother, and herself. “I needed that job and I planned to maximize the opportunity.” They made her an offer within two months, and she stayed there for a year and a half until she was laid off during the recession.
Shortly after that, she came home from a job interview and found a notice of foreclosure sale on her door, along with her neighbor’s. In 2009 their landlord had defaulted on a loan, and they had to move. She packed up and followed the rest of her family to Phoenix, Arizona where she reconnected with them and met a man who she would eventually marry. In early 2011, a recruiter helped her land an interview for a temp position with PetSmart managing their Gift Card Program. The recruiter called her back before she even got home and said, "I don't know what you said to him, but he was impressed! They want you to start tomorrow at 8 am." Looking back, she recalls crying and praising God with tears running down her face on the freeway. Her husband was still a student, and her unemployment extension had run out that week, so the new job came right on time. Within the first ten months, she was able to triple the size of the program, and they made her a permanent employee. “I learned everything I could and then built a well-rounded strategy that I executed with very few marketing investments. I spent almost seven years at PetSmart building a program worth a few hundred million dollars.” While in that position, she caught the attention of Whole Foods in Austin and left PetSmart to do the same thing there. After almost two years at Whole Foods, she was laid off again. Two weeks after receiving her notice of layoff, her relationship also began to fall apart. After the marriage ended, she adopted her second mantra, "Change is possible."
She says that during this time, their lives were pushed out of control, and they were both trying to stay afloat while drowning in a sea of sadness and depression. “My son and I focused on Oatmeal & Company as a way to manage our grief. Anytime we'd have a bad day or be too depressed to get out of bed, we make a new flavor and worked on this business.” Her last day at Whole Foods was March 15, 2019, but she had already started working on this side hustle by filing for her LLC in October 2018 and then applying for the Texas Farmers Markets that December. On March 14th, 2019, they got an email from the farmers market stating that they had been accepted into their Wednesday night market. She received $6k in seed money from friends and family, which they used to get started. Her creative friends also donated their time and services, helping with everything from creating their logo to building a website, something that she says speaks to the value of building connections and social currency. Their first official market was June 5th, 2019, and they made $600 in three hours. “I couldn't believe it, I was convinced that this was my path.”
Darian told us that sourcing the capital to get started was a challenge because she was wary of taking out loans. “Honestly, my mom wasn't good with credit or money and I wasn't either, so I read a lot of books on financial literacy, and I share whatever I learn with my son and siblings in an effort to better manage our growth and potential wealth responsibly.”
When asked about the most important thing she’s learned from running her own business she said, “Faith is a lesson in patience, so don't give up. Just give it your best, stay diligent, and your hard work will eventually be rewarded…”
“On a more practical note, find mentors, build a network, and outsource what you can't do or don't know. Mentors are like a compass and will help you find your direction and build a strategy when you feel lost. A Network will help you execute that strategy, and outsourcing some things will save you time.”
Because of her perseverance and dedication to the business that she created with her son, the journey ahead for Oatmeal and Company looks very promising. When asked about her goals for the future, Darian said her most immediate goals are already in play. She’s partnering with a co-packer and going into grocery stores nationally. “The co-packer will help us scale thoughtfully and manage the production portion of the business. Long term, she plans to compete against the major players in this space. Providing the world's best oatmeal and other products to more families around the world, while still maintaining a clean, high-quality product that’s thoughtfully made with love and purpose.”
Head to Oatmeal & Company to test out all of the delicious flavors Darian and her son Derrick have dreamed up — your morning oatmeal will never be the same again!