by Sarah McConnell / photography by Ralph Yznaga
“Can we just make our own?”
Darian Washington didn’t know it at the time, but this simple question posed by her then-11-year-old son, Derrick, had just set the wheels of Oatmeal & Company in motion. Two years later, Washington now brings her own twist to the classic breakfast item, pairing flavors that include blueberry cardamom, lemon lavender and smoked peach bourbon.
Washington’s entrance into the oatmeal industry didn’t come from any particular love of oatmeal but from the desire to provide a delicious, convenient and wholesome breakfast for her son, a self-described “Pop Tart addict.” In hope of enticing Derrick to try something new, she had brought home a sample of banana, espresso and chocolate overnight oats. But he swiftly countered her efforts with his simple request to “just make our own.” Using a blend of warm spices, almond milk, apricots, cranberries and specialty ingredients from the Korean market, Washington and her son concocted their own hazelnut apricot overnight oats. “Wait, Mom, this is really good,” Washington says she remembers Derrick saying. And with that, Oatmeal & Company was born.
About a year after launching the company, Washington moves around the kitchen on a warm March day, lovingly crafting a bowl of blueberry cardamom oatmeal with Derrick close by, and explains how the unexpected business venture came to fruition.
Originally from a small town just north of Pasadena, California, she moved to Austin in 2017 to accept a position in corporate retail and marketing with Whole Foods Market. In January 2019, however, she learned her position was being eliminated. “I went from having one life to having another life,” Washington says.
What she couldn’t see at the time, however, was that while the corporate doors in her life were closing, the doors to Oatmeal & Company — the “cushy side gig” she had started in 2018 — were beginning to open. Washington’s mindset began to change, and she saw the circumstances as an opportunity to expand Oatmeal & Company into something that could fully provide for her and Derrick. She already knew she had a desirable product: After that first fated batch of oatmeal, she had shared their creation with various friends and Whole Foods coworkers and quickly found herself with dozens of requests for her oatmeal products. Before she knew it, people were leaving empty mason jars with flavor requests and offering candies and cookies as payment for her delicious blend of oats.
Now, it was time to make Oatmeal & Company official. “Because why not? Right? You have an opportunity to do something that you think is going to make you happy. You should do it,” Washington says of the decision to fully commit to the company while putting a pot of boiling water on the stove. On those first few tough days when the weight of her circumstances and the new endeavor seemed overwhelming, Derrick was the constant in her life that provided the motivation she needed to keep going. “I learned that you always have to have a ‘why.’ My kid is my ‘why,’” she says with a glance and smile at her son.
When a dream like this takes shape in her mind, Washington says she visualizes herself as an archer with a quiver full of arrows. “I take an arrow out of my quiver, put it in my bow, tie that note to the end of the arrow and then I aim. I pull back, I let go and I imagine it flying through the universe with this note flailing behind it,” she says, arms extended as if holding an imaginary quiver. If the dream hasn’t come to fruition yet, Washington says, that just means the arrow is still flying.
Within the span of one short year, Oatmeal & Company’s flavors have expanded to include strawberry basil and bananas foster. According to Washington, the fun part is finding the perfect combination of flavors and textures that yields the right balance. For example, in the blueberry cardamom, the warmth of the cardamom brings out the sweetness of the blueberry while balancing its tanginess. In the smoked peach bourbon, smooth peaches enhance the subtle smokiness and temper the power of the bourbon. When asked about her favorite flavor, Washington says she is partial to both the blueberry cardamom and the strawberry basil, but especially blueberry cardamom because it’s the “collective favorite” she shares with Derrick.
As Washington puts the finishing touches on the bowl of oatmeal on the counter, she delicately adds blueberries, cardamom, cinnamon and a touch of sugar to the bowl of steamed oats before stirring the ingredients together to create a soft shade of lavender. The result is a creation that is both beautiful and delicious. While Washington cooks, Derrick stands by her in the kitchen, ready to help however she may need, chiming in to add his own details to the story. The tight bond between the two is evident, and it’s clear that, for this mother-son duo, it’s not just about making oatmeal; it’s about the process of creating and experimenting together.
Though Washington’s products aren’t in grocery stores yet, they can be found online and at a number of farmers markets in the Austin area, including SFC Farmers’ Market—Downtown, Texas Farmers Market at Lakeline Mall and Gruene Market, among others. Washington says her business goal is to see her oatmeal distributed in grocery stores across the country. Her personal goals, however, are closer to home.
“My ultimate goal is to be a grandma,” she says with a laugh. The unseen factor in Oatmeal & Company’s success is the enthusiasm, encouragement and constant support Derrick provides his mom. As they pose for a picture, the precocious 13-year-old grins up at his mom and wraps an arm protectively around her. Whatever the future holds, they’re in it together.
You can find Oatmeal & Company at local farmers' markets and order online at oatmealandcompany.com