Megan barbecues up some great coworker relationships
In 2010, Megan Varani and her husband Brian began participating in BBQ competitions in several different states. Just six short years later, they opened Mookie’s BBQ Restaurant and also have a catering business in Northern Virginia.
All of this was made possible thanks to EY leadership giving her the flexibility to get the work done with taking many Fridays off to travel to competitions. She talks about how her sharing provided another connection point with clients and coworkers. And by her sharing more about the BBQ competitions and restaurant, it encouraged others to also open up about their passions.
Megan is an Executive Director with EY in the DC Metro office, focusing on Assurance Financial Services clients. She’s spent the last 14 years with EY. Prior to that, she was an Audit Staff with Arthur Andersen prior to being merged into EY.
Megan graduated from Marietta College with a BA in Accounting and a minor in Leadership Studies.
Other pictures of Megan
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
John: Welcome to Episode 24 of the Green Apple podcast. I’m so overwhelmed with how many of you are sharing this podcast with your friends and coworkers. I mean, the numbers are going through the roof. Just, thank you so much. And I can’t wait to introduce you to my guest, Megan Varani. She and her husband were kicking butt at barbeque competitions, so they decided to take a huge leap and opened the Mookie’s BBQ restaurant in Great Falls, Virginia outside of D.C.
How cool is that? All of this while Megan is an Executive Director with EY, focusing on Assurance Financial Services clients. She graduated from Marietta College with a BA in Accounting and a minor in leadership studies and has been in public accounting ever since. You’re going to hear about how Megan is talking about barbeque. It has really opened up stronger connections and encourage others to talk about their passions as well.
But first, Megan, the one thing I’d love to ask everyone I talk to is, how did you get into accounting to begin with?
Megan: Yeah. So, I think I was probably — I always knew I wanted to be an accountant. I think in high school, I’m trying to be an accountant. I took a couple of accounting classes. It’s very practical I think knowing — sort of picked my major based on knowing that I would get a job after I finished. So, very practical, very reasonable, levelheaded person, I think. I always like numbers.
John: So you had no choice. You had no choice, really.
Megan: Pretty much, yeah. I mean, I went to a small liberal arts college I think, basically, so I could participate in a lot of different extracurricular stuff, play tennis. The school I went to is Marietta College in Ohio and they had a leadership program I was very interested in from like a community service aspect as well as having the accounting program but not — even though I knew I was going to be an accountant, I didn’t want to be locked in to like having to go to a business school or a big university where I could get lost or not really know my way. I did accounting there. There’s nothing changed my mind. I knew I was going to complete that. So, I knew. And I guess I wasn’t sure if I knew I would get a job. I wasn’t exactly sure of what that would be. I had an internship with a roofing and sheet metal company.
John: There you go.
Megan: Yeah, which was right after I’m in college. Just helped them with like QuickBooks and just general ledger type stuff. That was pretty boring. I knew I didn’t want to do that. I mean, that was small town Ohio, the big firms weren’t really recruiting us very regularly. We had to pretty much be proactive. My friend at the time, who’s now my husband, he actually got himself an internship with Arthur Andersen, actually, in this D.C. area. His mom had been living there. So he did his internship. After the completion of his internship, he referred me, actually, to Andersen and I got offered a full-time position with them.
John: Very good.
Megan: Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have gotten the opportunity but I’m still at EY and he’s not, but for other reason.
John: But I don’t remind him every morning.
Megan: Right, yeah. Yeah. I mean, nine months with Andersen before coming to EY. EY pretty much adopted us all as part of a local transaction and went through sort of that with them and always in the audit practice and never really looked back. Definitely, I didn’t want to do tax.
John: No, no. Nobody does. Even the people in tax don’t want to do tax.
Megan: Right, right.
John: They were like it’s either tax or roofing sheet metal, and they chose tax.
Megan: Right. Yeah.
John: Well, that’s interesting. It’s like you knew from the beginning. So, good for you. With somebody like me, I had to trip a couple of times over some other things, and then I fell into it, and now look, now look what I do.
Megan: Yeah. I laugh because I think my parents probably still don’t know what I do and it’s not that they were accountants either. Yeah. I mean, my grandfather I know is a banker, so that’s kind of close.
John: That’s close, all right, yeah.
John: Yeah. No, it is hard to explain especially when there’s such a wide variety of things that you can do with an accounting degree, and taxes is not one of them all the time.
Megan: So you just ask quite frequently all the time. “Oh, the tax season, it’s very busy.”
John: Yeah. It’s like, “Well, your guess is as good as mine, I have no idea either.”
John: What do you want the number to be? Let’s just do that. How’s that sound?
John: Oh, that’s interesting. And obviously, it takes a lot of time in the middle of busy season. So I really appreciated you taking time to be on the podcast with me. But when you’re out of work and on the weekends, what hobbies and passions take up most of your time? And I know you have one really big one.
Megan: Right. Probably, the biggest one is the barbeque business with my husband. We started, I think as a hobby, competing in the barbeque circuits about six years ago. We really just started full speed. We signed up for ten competitions a year, which involved a full day Friday and Saturday, and then you’re recovering on Sunday because of the overnight —
John: Yeah, and cleaning up and everything.
Megan: Yeah, or sleeping. And that was evolved into what — we now have a barbeque restaurant opened in September, 2015.
John: Wow, that’s so awesome. Congratulations. That’s such a huge job.
Megan: Thanks. Yeah. It was quite the jump. I mean, we went from the competition to catering small scale events just for friends and family to then starting the business and starting to publicize just basically relying on word of mouth for about two and a half, three years and then started looking for a full space for a restaurant. My husband is an accountant by trade as well and we started together at Anderson New York for UI for a couple of years before going to a consulting firm for about eight years, and he then left there to pursue the barbeque full-time. I’ve been helping him with that and that takes up pretty much all the rest of my time. I do still participate in some like not-for-profit stuff and like leukemia and lymphoma society like Night Walk and team in training. I did some of that and I’ve done several of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer walks as well, so to keep up with some of that.
John: Right when you can. Yeah. That is so cool. This was just something that started as kind of, “Hey, let’s make some barbeque sauce and go to competitions.”
Megan: Yeah. He started with making this on sauce and making barbeque for like football Sundays just for like friends and family, and then got really into it. And I think I had grown up as like very weird. But I had grown up going to like rib cook-offs like in Ohio when I was really little.
John: Like a church picnic? That seems like a Midwest church picnic kind of a thing.
Megan: Yeah, we have those but we’d also have like Big Rib Festivals and contests and stuff. I don’t know why, like I just love that. I love going to those when I was little. So, we went to one, my husband and I, locally here and we like walked through it and we’re like, well, we have all this equipment, we can totally sign up for this. This is fine. This is going to be easy. We can totally do this and then that taught me to start signing up and then the rest of it is history.
John: It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?
Megan: Yeah. I mean, we went from like Smoky Mountain, Little River smokers to maybe like a 10-foot trailer pulled behind to the built accustomed 20-foot trailer and now full-on restaurant.
John: I mean, you can’t wheel that thing around.
Megan: No, no.
John: Yeah. That’s impressive though. That is so cool especially in, I mean, in six short years. I mean, that’s a little time at all. Yeah. You’re just walking through and you’re like, “We could do this. I mean, why not?”
Megan: Yup. We have a couple of tables and a tent and smoker and that’s it.
John: Yeah. That is so cool.
Megan: Yeah. There’s a lot more.
John: Yeah, that is so cool. I guess maybe, is there one thing or maybe there are a couple of things that are maybe some of the more rewarding or memorable moments along that path that you’ve gotten to do because of this?
Megan: Yeah. I would say it’s really gathering of like friends and family that come over. So just the teamwork that everyone came in together to do this with us, like we couldn’t do it ourselves, so I think the support of that. I think even at EY, like my support network like everyone is so supportive and would come out at the contest or be a part of it or want to come visit us or want to eat food where it’s closed or just other things that just brought a lot of people together, and that was really meaningful for us. Then we’ve met new people too because of it.
John: Yeah. That’s just awesome, yeah. I always find that other people are like, “Yeah, you should totally do this” as you’re thinking about, “Maybe we’re going to get bigger.” “Yeah, yeah. Go.” And it’s easy for them to say because it’s not them. “I’m the one that’s got to do all this.” But it’s so cool to have that support network there. Friends and families is one thing but to have coworkers involved is so great. So, how did that come about maybe where coworkers find out about this? Or do you just come to work smelling like barbeque and they’re like, “She’s into something”?
Megan: I have done that and they didn’t tell me. I remember I was — I don’t know. I was —
John: It’s always on her fingers, like these work papers are all sticky. What’s going on?
Megan: Yeah, it’s even smoky. I remember being asked to speak at, actually, like a similar town hall that you still get back in 2010. And that was an incident like I hate speaking in front of people, like in front of big crowd isn’t really my thing.
John: Yeah, that was a pretty big crowd. That’s quite a few.
Megan: Yeah. So, it’s pretty intimidating but I sort of used — I don’t know what I was supposed to be talking about but I just remember bringing out — maybe it was like flexibility at work or something and like use the example to everyone about how — my husband and I have been doing barbeque competitions. It was kind of fun to talk about and that was really when I think a lot of — we started realizing it and learning about it like internally. And then even externally with my clients, you know, some folks just made, perhaps, something else to talk to them about besides work.
So, like bringing things up, something that people could relate to. Almost everyone likes food and a lot of people have a connection somehow to barbeque or think about barbeque as being like their family or like bringing people together. So it was just a thing to talk about and this is something to do when people are interested in it because they’re different. It wasn’t something that you find people doing all the time.
I think in my teams, I mean given that I had to take a lot, a Friday’s off, I had to constantly be communicating or kind of moving things around to allow for that and people were supportive. And I think part of it is just because I did a lot of work every other day of the week. So, they knew I was going to get my work done but at the same time, this was important and it was something fun and different that we are doing.
John: Right, right. And it’s something that you said that I think is really interesting is you referred to it as fun to talk about. So, could you maybe talk about that a little bit? I guess it’s probably more fun to talk about than an audit or anything else really.
Megan: Yeah. Obviously, it’s fun while we’re at the event. So, anything that you can talk about, it’s going to bring out those emotions as well like that you’re having fun and then it draws people into it because it’s a very positive event and it’s not like — you’re right, like accounting where people might not understand everything you’re saying or like different rules or whatnot. People, basically, will understand like getting together, making through competing, just having fun with it. It makes it easy to talk about as well, and sometimes uncomfortable settings like with people that you don’t know very well that kind of breaks the ice and starts people talking about other things that they might enjoy too. So, I’ve had that experience, or like trips they’ve taken where they visited great barbeque places or other things kind of bring people out and talking a little bit more as well. So, that’s been interesting.
John: Yeah. Like, “Well, there’s one time I went to an Arby’s. Is that like what you guys do?”
Megan: I love Arby’s, but no.
John: Well, at least we’re not talking about management recommendations, whatever, sure.
Megan: Yeah, exactly.
John: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But I mean those are all awesome points that you just pointed out so that I never really thought about either is just when you’re talking about something that you are passionate about. I mean, just in the tone and the emotion and the gestures and your eyes light up and you’re alive, and that people really gravitate to that like you said. Yeah. And then plenty of examples that you had with clients and coworkers where it just develops that stronger connection where they’re coming to your events. I mean, that’s just so cool. That’s great. That’s really good.
John: That’s very cool. And now that you opened a restaurant, you’re like, “Now you can go there.”
Megan: Yeah. Coming to the restaurant is awesome, you know, running into EY people there because I help with hosting on Saturday and Sunday pretty much and then do anything else that needs done. But it’s fun to welcome my coworkers there. One of my coworkers and her husband, we just started doing brunch a couple of weeks ago and they come every week a bunch. They come three weeks in a row for brunch.
John: That’s nice, yeah. You’re kind of like, “You guys should do something different sometimes but thank you.”
Megan: Pretty well. Yeah, we call them a brunch warriors now because they are there.
John: Yeah. You know when the accountants are in the house because there are coupons being passed and they’ll go, “We got a coupon for this. So, come on.”
John: Yeah, very cool, very cool. One thing that’s interesting to me is this has all sort of started and came about in six short years. And before that, were there things that you shared at work like the barbeque restaurant and what have you? Or is this kind of the thing that made you kind of open up more?
Megan: Yes, probably was. I don’t know how much. I mean obviously, our connection, I think that was probably besides — I’d play a little bit of tennis and I did some of those walks in terms of raising money for cancer research stuff. But otherwise, it’s like a true sort of passion or something outside of work, I wouldn’t say. So, stuff about that.
John: Right, right. Do you think that there’s a reason why maybe? I mean, I remember when I was new and you’re just trying to be super accountant, trying to, whatever.
Megan: Yeah. There is a lot of work there. I worked six, sometimes seven days a week. I think the CPA exam in my first several years was a real struggle too. It was a lot of work. So, I’ll work.
John: Yeah. You didn’t even have time to have a passion went alone, nobody was, or talk about this.
Megan: Yeah. I think they’ve always been big like game player and things like that, but like our gambler sometimes but that wasn’t like consistent, like a consistent thing really.
John: Right, or something that you necessarily wanted to blast around the office maybe.
Megan: Exactly, yeah.
John: “Hey, who’s got money on the Redskins? It’s like, “I think Megan does.” It’s like, “All right.” Yeah, yeah, because I mean that’s the one thing that’s always fascinated me is when you’re early on, you’re trying so hard to work and work and work and maybe sometimes just taking a step back and having that hobby or that passion to differentiate yourself a little bit from the rest of the pack. Now that you’re at a higher level, do you see that sometimes in the staff and senior level?
Megan: I mean, I think from my own personal, I think having this other sort of aspect of my life and talking about it with folks has allowed other people like staff and senior to be more open to the idea of having something else. I don’t know if that’s what you’re really getting at but like I don’t — it’s so encouraging that life is like sort of outside of our day to day. I think people see me as being pretty flexible and still making it work. Obviously, everyone is different and I don’t have kids like other people do. So like, you’re kind of balancing that but like, you know, having a restaurant.
John: Yeah. That’s probably two kids.
Megan: Right, yes. And I think just being open and providing that little bit of glimpse into my life outside of work has helped other people feel like there is other things outside of just being crazy at work and I should continue to pursue those things or figure out what those other things are. It’s kind of like usually people are happier at work because of that.
John: Right, yeah. I mean, and that’s a really good point as well is just that by you opening up and showing your passion and then others around you feel, “Oh, this is a good place where I can do that also.”
Megan: Right, yeah. And I have to work with people that they coach maybe lacrosse or some other kid sports teams on the side and they just feel comfortable doing that and talking about that in the first place.
John: Right. And when we were early on, I’m sure that there weren’t very many higher up people doing that for us.
Megan: Right, exactly.
John: So, that probably was kind of definitely a factor in that. I guess my next question is just when it comes to I guess opening up on a spectrum of how much is it on the organization to create this culture or what have you versus it’s on the individual to step up and open up a little bit in here and there to share appropriately.
Megan: Yeah. I mean, I guess it’s a little bit of both because I feel like there’s the tone at the top and the individual — like the individual creates the culture. So if the individual at the top aren’t really talking or encouraging this kind of camaraderie and like talking about their life and no one is going to talk about it. I mean, I think EY has developed a great culture that supports that. But I don’t know.
John: Yeah, yeah. No, no, no, I agree, I mean because it’s something that it’s kind of somewhere in the middle, I think, where you know, the tone at the top certainly helps. So if you have that, then awesome. But I also think that even with that, there are some people that are just like, “Well, I’m just not going to share.”
John: So even you can lead the horse to water but a good golly.
Megan: Yeah, because you don’t want to make people uncomfortable and some people want to keep like our clear distinction between their work and their personal life. I mean, you have to respect that I think. But I think sharing these types of things just provide another connection point and relationships and building relationships in our business is so important. So, it helps in that regard and I would encourage other people to do that too.
John: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s perfect. Yeah. I mean, you’re a living example of creating these connections and generating more business and just everything is better, I think, when you do because yeah, I mean you’re connecting on a human level like you said in the beginning that is a little more rewarding, I think.
Megan: Yup, definitely.
John: Yeah. Cool. Well, I mean this was — wow, this was really jam-packed. You’re very efficient. I like this, Megan. I like it.
Megan: Yeah. I’ve been known to be.
John: Yeah, yeah. Like I got this as a charge code. I don’t know what it’s going to be but we’re going to knock this out.
John: So, really quickly before I let you go, I feel like we’ve really gotten to know you and it’s been great but I have a rule where we’re not allowed to hang out until I ask you 17 rapid fire questions. These are the questions that when you’re interviewing those college seniors, these are the questions that you want to be asking them. So, we’ll start out. Here we go. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Megan: Star Wars.
John: Cats or dogs?
John: Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: All right, diamonds or pearls?
John: Wow. You said that with a little bit of tone, I like it. Balance sheet or income statement?
Megan: Balance sheet.
John: Yeah. Do you have a movie that makes you cry?
Megan: My Girl.
John: My Girl. That’s a good movie, yeah. How about a favorite number?
John: Twelve. Is there a reason why?
Megan: It was my cell phone number when I was like a kid.
John: I’m catching a theme here, Megan. It’s like once you get something that’s good, it’s like, “I’m writing this out.”
John: How about a favorite adult beverage?
Megan: I’m into grapefruit and vodka right now.
John: Okay, right now, as in this afternoon during busy season?
Megan: Yeah, right.
John: PC or Mac?
John: Yeah, yeah. Right click or left click?
Megan: Right click.
John: How about a favorite color?
John: Blue? That’s mine too. Do you have a least favorite color?
John: Brown? Oh yeah, that’s a good answer. How about favorite toppings on a pizza?
Megan: Pepperoni and mushrooms.
John: Yeah, that’s a safe one. How about a favorite Disney character?
John: Goofy, nice answer. You’re already my new favorite. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Megan: Kevin Costner.
John: Kevin Costner, there you go. Pens or pencils?
John: Pens. And the last one, here it is, what’s the favorite thing you own? Right now, the Vodka and grape juice?
John: I’m teasing.
Megan: That’s a really hard answer. I don’t know.
John: That’s a hard one?
John: All right.
Megan: My dog, I don’t know.
John: Your dog? No, that’s cool. What kind of dog is it?
Megan: It’s a boxer mix.
John: Oh, nice. That’s cool, very cool. Yeah. Well, there we go. That was it. I really appreciate it, Megan. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me.
Megan: Thank you.
John: Wow. I can’t get over how great that line is, sharing provides another connection point for our relationships with both coworkers and clients. Be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com for some links and pictures of Megan and her husband, Brian. And if you live near D.C., go to Mookie’s BBQ restaurant. It won’t keep you any longer, so you can go out and be a green apple.