Mary Gatlin - Gatlin's BBQ

Interview by: Catherine Stiles

Portraits by: Wyatt McSpadden

Happy New Year! I could not think of a more inspiring person to introduce you to as we kick off this blank page in a new year. This “Barbecue Wife” is the definition of Southern Hospitality and perhaps one of the kindest souls I’ve met along this adventure in Barbecue. I’m so very pleased to introduce you to Miss Mary Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ in Houston, Texas. Through Faith, Family, and the love of Barbecue…she’s helped build a life worth living and loving in Houston, Texas. 

Mary Gatlin (photo by: Wyatt McSpadden)

Mary Gatlin (photo by: Wyatt McSpadden)


GATLIN'S BBQ (Houston, Texas)

Tell me a little bit about where you are from and where you grew up? I was born in Houston, Texas and I grew up in the 3rd Ward. I never had the desire to leave. I was a very happy child. I enjoyed playing with my siblings (four brothers and one sister). We were very close.

What did your parents do? What influence did they have on you in becoming the woman you are today? My parents were very loving and strict. They set boundaries and taught me the values and benefits of respecting those boundaries. My father instilled in me that I could do anything and be anything that I wanted to be.  My mother was a strong woman. She taught me how to be strong, but at the same time how to be a lady. My parents had a great influence on me being the woman I am today (especially spiritually). They taught me to work hard, but always depend on God for everything. And to be appreciative (have a heart of gratitude) for everything you have in this world.

What were you like as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up? Because of my family upbringing, I was a very happy child. I was always very caring of others. We didn’t have much, but I was not aware of it at that time. I was grateful for what we had because I was taught to be grateful. I always wanted to be a nurse. I had to refuse a scholarship from Denton University. The reason why? My mother passed away, and I had to help raise my baby sister and youngest brother.

Tell me about the business of barbecue. What do you think people might not know about the day in the life of Mary Gatlin and your role in the family business? We began the business with catering and at the time it was just the three of us (my son Gregory, my husband Henry, and myself). We were working around the clock, getting a few hours of sleep and then getting back up the next day with a smile to greet our customers. The barbecue business is hard work, but it is so rewarding. I am thankful for every customer and the opportunity to greet and treat them as family, no matter who they are. I treat our customers the way I would like to be treated.

What is the best thing about being in the Barbecue business? It is all about Love. It is about the love and joy of cooking, the love of satisfying our customers. Love is the secret ingredient in whatever “we” do at Gatlin’s Barbecue. 

What is the worst thing about being in the Barbecue business?  The barbecue business is a 24-7 business with us. But when you enjoy feeding the masses, there is not a "worst" thing. It is a blessing.


Greg & Mary Gatlin (photo by: Wyatt McSpadden)

Greg & Mary Gatlin (photo by: Wyatt McSpadden)

How do you juggle being a wife, mother, grandmother and entrepreneur? Any advice you can give as a working mom making it all happen every day? My advice to the working mom is to pray. Ask God for the strength that you will need to be successful as a mother (first) and as an entrepreneur. Get your priorities in order. Keep your focus on the main thing. Pace yourself, keep one foot in front of the other. Don’t think about what you have to do, just do it and rest assured great rewards will come.  But I didn’t have to do a lot of juggling, because all three of my sons were grown when we started the business. And they understood that their father (Henry) and I were helping their brother (Greg) fulfill his dream. All three of my sons are successful in their own way. Tim is a graduate of West Point-The U.S. Military Academy. Greg is a graduate of Rice University.  Kevin is a graduate of University of Houston. I am a very proud of each one of my sons.  

What do you do for fun? I enjoy spending time with my husband Henry. We have been married for over 44 years. He makes me laugh. We make each other laugh. I enjoy watching comedies, listening to good music, “fellowshipping” with good people who enjoy life, and I love spending time with my grandchildren. My grandchildren keep a smile on my face and laughter in my heart.   

If you were going to give one piece of advice to a young person who wanted to get into the business of barbecue or just "food" in general, what would that be? The advice I would give a young person who wanted to get into the restaurant business is to hold on to your dream (let this be your passion), and never give up. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just hang in there, hold on, and never give up.

What's next for Mary Gatlin? If you could do something outside of the barbecue business, what would that be? I feel what is next for me is to open a Bed and Breakfast. If I could do something outside of the barbecue business, I would be an “Encourager” to young people.  I would encourage them to get their education, follow their dreams, love what they are doing so that it doesn’t feel like work. And always have a plan B, C, and D.

When you actually get the chance...what do you do with girlfriends on a "Night Out" on the town? When I actually get the chance to go out with my girlfriends we go out to eat, and to the Heights Theatre on 19th street. 

When you have guests in town are there any local restaurants, shops, or favorite attractions you like to direct them to? When I have guest in town I direct them to the Houston Museum District.  I also direct them to the Art Car Museum, and to the resale and the antique shops in the Heights. When it comes to suggesting a local restaurant it depends on what they want to eat. There is no denying, we have the best of the best restaurants in Houston, Texas.

Favorite Musician?  My favorite musicians are: Yolanda Adams, Clint Black, Luke Bryan, Whiney Houston, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, and Thunder Soul Orchestra.

If you were to empty out your purse on the table right now, what would we find? If I were to empty my purse on the table right now, you would fine encouragement cards with Bible verses and positive sayings.  They keep me uplifted so I can uplift others. You would also find a lot of receipts, and a small wooden plaque titled “Think Positive” by Walter Wintle.

“If you think you are beaten, you are.  If you think you dare not, you don’t. Success begins with your own will. It’s all in the state of mind.

Life’s battles are not always won by those who are stronger or faster.

Sooner or later the person who wins is the person who thinks he can.”

Is there a local or national charitable cause that you support and would like more people to be aware of? The National charitable cause that I support is the Cancer Society. I am a Cancer Survivor.

We end each interview with a piece we can share from your kitchen to the reader’s home kitchen. Think of it as sharing a recipe card from one good friend to another. What is a favorite recipe you like to share from your home kitchen when you are entertaining with friends and family?

The Five Flavor Pound Cake         


1 cup butter (2 sticks - softened)

3 cups granulated sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

5 eggs well (beaten separately)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup of vegetable oil or Crisco shortening

1 cup condensed sweetened milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon rum extract

1 teaspoon coconut flavoring extract

1 teaspoon butter flavoring extract


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease a Bundt cake pan.

In small bowl, combine flour and baking powder set aside.

In a measuring cup, combine the condensed milk and 1 teaspoon of each of the 5 extracts; set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter, shortening and 3 cups of sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs and beat until smooth.

Beat in flour mixture alternating with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Spoon mixture into prepared Bundt cake pan.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until cake tests done.


"Thank you" to Mary for taking the time to share a little about her journey. She's such a joy to visit with. We began our talks mid way through 2017 and over that time there was a major flood disaster in Houston with Hurricane Harvey. All through this time, Mary maintained her positive outlook and her "life is good" attitude. Her love for her family and the life she has created can be felt through the phone. She makes you feel better about yourself just by visiting with her for five minutes. What a pleasure it has been to connect with "The one and only" Miss Mary Gatlin. Go visit her on your next trip to Houston at Gatlin's BBQ and give her a hug for me. 

In the very least, we hope that our chats with the people we meet along this adventure inspire you to make your best life happen.  Its a blank slate & a new year. Take that and run. 

Till next time!

Catherine Stiles

P.S. If you have a "Barbecue Wife" we need to meet, shoot us an email at We'd love to hear from you!