"inLieu of the Sh*t," a Thread Tales Chat with Kathy Terry, Founder of P. Terry's & inLieu
When I reached out to Kathy with no more than a hope & a prayer to ask if she would be willing to share her story on Thread Tales, I never expected her reply to be 1) a “yes,” and 2) filled with such enthusiasm & grace. But that’s exactly what happened (!). Fast forward to sitting on the patio at Irene’s, sipping ice tea and listening in awe to how she successfully built two Austin companies from the ground-up, I realized that’s just who Kathy is. She lives her life with gratitude, joy & passion for everything she does and everyone she meets. She understands the tremendous impact of being in the present, staying true to yourself, and showing up for your friends & family.
Quite frankly, Kathy is a certified badass.
I’m so excited & honored to share in Kathy’s words how she & her husband Patrick first changed the fast food game by putting P. Terry’s on the Austin, TX map (hello veggie burger!) and why it’s now her mission to make charitable giving more accessible in hopes for a more sustainable future…
How long have you been in Austin?
I moved here in 1990 to go to school at UT.
Knowing you’ve been here for 28 years, tell me how Austin has influenced you both personally & professionally.
From a personal perspective, it totally opened my eyes because I came from West Texas…from Midland which was very conservative. And I grew up in a working class family. So when I came to Austin, I was just taken by the innate beauty of it. It’s a incredible place to live and it was the first time I ever observed my surroundings…the river, the people and really that whole lifestyle. It had more of a relaxed, open-minded vibe that I loved, and still love today.
In the 90’s it was such a small town & it had that small town feel, and yet it just had this energy. It was cool and everybody was so excepting. So personally it just allowed me to grow and see things differently.
Professionally, there was so much opportunity. I would have never taken the chance to start my own business. It opened up my world and allowed me to take the risk of quitting my job and saying, ok now I’m just going to be a contract worker, create my own schedule, pick and choose my own cases. It didn’t sound crazy at the time. Looking back that was probably stupid or crazy, but being in Austin it was ahead of it’s time. It changed my whole life, my whole world really. Being able to be independent, and travel, and work and just be who I wanted to be. Austin just has a very special place in heart.
You’re the Co-Founder of the iconic hamburger fast food restaurant, P. Terry’s, and also Founder of the mobile giving app, inLieu. Both are homegrown in Austin, tell me what that means to you.
We would have never been successful if we would have started anywhere else. We started P. Terry’s 14 years ago, and nobody knew who we were. I mean, P. Terry’s - what the hell was that? But everyone gave us a chance and gave us multiple chances. We had a vision and we were going to stay true to that vision.
Having a family business, giving back to our employees, supporting our employees, giving back to the community…and in turn, having the community really give back to us. I remember one I was working at lunch, the first year we were open, and I answered the phone and a girl said “I’m a vegetarian, and I ordered a veggie burger & I just got back to work and discovered it’s a cheeseburger. I can’t leave my office to go get another one.” She was so upset, and I don’t blame her. So I asked her, “where do you work, give me the address.” I literally grabbed someone to cover my spot at work so I could go deliver this veggie burger because I wanted her to know that that’s not what we were about. I don’t think a person in any other city would have taken the time to call. They would have probably just not come back. We did things like this all the time, and people gave us so many chances and I think that whole attitude really helped us grow.
What about inLieu?
For inLieu, it was definitely a personal passion project. And again, I couldn’t have built it anywhere else other than Austin or at any other time because everything comes back to access. I had access to people in the technology space, I didn’t have that anywhere else. If I would have emailed people with an @inlieu email address, they would have totally ignored my email. So I had to email them from my P. Terry’s email address. I can work harder than anyone else, I can be smarter than anyone else, I can have more passion than anyone else, but if no one is going to open that door when I’m banging on it, it doesn’t matter.
So by being in Austin and establishing P. Terry’s and what we’re about, people respect us & they love what we do. It allowed me to bang on the door and have them open it.
What’s been the defining moment for inLieu?
Just recently I had an “ah ha” moment because I was in this technology space that I wasn’t confident in. We kind of went through this at P. Terry’s, but I had Patrick with me - we didn’t know what we were doing but at the end of the day we knew we could make a damn good burger. It was tangible. It was something I knew, we grew up with, we knew how we wanted to treat people, we knew the quality of food we wanted to serve. So it was easier to wrap my head around P. Terry’s. But in the technology space, I was meeting with a lot of people who said I was crazy. For me the whole end goal was to just build it. I was naive, and thinking “if I build it, they will come.” Then it wasn’t until after I launched I realized, I have a technology business and I have to scale this thing. So for the last year, I’ve been doing stuff that I didn’t really believe in deep down inside. I just thought, that’s what everyone else does and so I guess I am suppose to go raise money, and do these events, and have this swag, get the influencers, and be apart of this world that isn’t me.
I’ve been really uncomfortable the past year and I finally realized, what the fuck am I doing? This is not why I built this and this is not what I’m about. This is my business and I can run it the way I want to run it. I don’t have to run it like all the other mobile apps. I can do it my way, and if it doesn’t scale in a year, who cares. I’m going to do it the way I want to do it.
Now I feel lighter, I feel like I’ve gotten myself back and you know what, watch out. I’m rejuvenated, I’m going to do this my way.
We did P. Terry’s our way. It’s a fast food restaurant, but this year we will have given over $1 million dollars to non-profits. No other fast food restaurant our size in the country can say that. We do things that no other fast food restaurant does and it’s because we did it our way.
So I’m just going to do inLieu the way we did P. Terry’s.
You do seem lighter, and you’re energy is so infectious…
I was with a friend the other day and she said “oh my gosh you’re back.” I asked her why she didn’t say anything to me, and she just said “ I didn’t know what say, because you were just so driven; you’re the most driven person I know and I didn’t want to get in your way.” So I tell everybody, if they see their friend in a bad place you have to say something. You can’t let it fester that long. Who knows, I may have not been in the mindset 3 months ago to accept it. But you have to be willing to give and accept that advice.
What can we expect next from you and inLieu?
My vision for inLieu is that it becomes a verb. That it really does become part of our lifestyle and we do go through life way more conscious and way more present. We have to realize that our consumption isn’t doing us any good or bringing us anymore happiness. Hopefully inLieu is more of a movement and not just a mobile app. I hope it’s a lifestyle. I hope it’s about showing up differently & supporting your friends where they’re passionate. It’s about having these more authentic and closer communities. Because if I know why you’re passionate and why you’re giving back then I know something very special about you.
At the end of day, it’s all about the time we spend with people. It’s not about what you show up with at my house, or what you buy me for my birthday, it’s how you show up for friends and family all the time.
We only have one world, and just looking at Austin like I was saying earlier, the most beautiful part of Austin is it’s natural resources. I just want people to be conscious and aware of the true cost of things. There are so many people in our community & in the world that are struggling. It’s not going to be the government that’s going to save it and it’s not going to be the 1% because the crisis is just so huge. We all have to participate and we all have to change the way we think about each other, the way we show up, the way we give. For me, that’s inLieu.
inlieu of all the shit.