Nancy Lawyer Hamm Celebrates 25 Years in Business

Editor at Large

SUCCESSFUL TRIP: Nancy Lawyer Hamm in her 71st Street Depot restaurant and pub. The 3-D wooden artwork of the train in the background was created by her husband, Ben Hamm.

GTR Newspapers photo

She is vivacious and sunny. Confesses to being stubborn and independent.
She is astute and perceptive. Respected for being dedicated and committed.
She turned a personal negative into a professional positive.

Nancy Lawyer Hamm is a triumphant figure, well-rounded and well-grounded, in the overcrowded world of food-and-drink conviviality.

For 25 years, through the administrations of five U.S. presidents, the reign of six head football coaches at the University of Tulsa, Hamm has been sole proprietor and overseer of the 71st Street Depot, 7110 S. Mingo Rd.

When she took control of the cozy, unassuming eatery and lounge in 1992, the east Tulsa neighborhood was just beginning to surface on the meeting agendas of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.

Alsuma was closer than City Hall.

Sam’s Club was months away from opening its doors.

Car lots outnumbered restaurants.

Union’s game-changing Multipurpose Activity Center was still a decade away. So, too, were hotels and motels and the now ubiquitous satellite shopping centers and big-box retailers.

Nancy Lawyer Hamm walked in on the ground floor of a ready-to-explode hub of mercantilism.

In 1992, the 74133 code that is the gateway to Broken Arrow, was just beginning to morph from pastoral space to city heartbeat.

Nancy Lawyer Hamm was at the right place at the right time.

Even if she was not quite aware of it.

She had been building a reputation and a career in the information technology field, employed by a Tulsa industry giant, Memorex Telex.

But a mere five years after the firm was ranked 55th in the Forbes magazine list of 1,000 fast-growing companies, she was caught up in a rapid downsizing.

Memorex Telex was going south in a hurry.

Hamm found herself unemployed.

She might have been down. But she was not out.

She was not wired that way.

Reared on a cattle farm near Dewey, she had been taught the values of hard work, of self-sufficiency, of being independent.

While car-shopping along Mingo Road in 1992, with no employment in her immediate future, she was directed to the nearby 71st Street Depot, not much more than a year old.

On the north end of a new strip center, the Depot was known more for its food than for its drink.

The thought of owning, not to mention operating, a pub was virtually foreign to the thinking of the one-time high-school cheerleader.

Still, there had been periods in her youth when Nancy, as many her age, had worked in fast-food establishments. And, then, there was that ranch upbringing where hard work was a way of life, a way of survival.

She took a chance. Perhaps even a gamble.

After all, what did she have to lose?

She purchased the pub, right as a site expansion was beginning, from the original owner.

As quickly as she could drive through the non-threatening intersection of 71st Street and Mingo Road, Nancy was a tavern owner.

And she’s never looked back.

Only looked forward.

Once a member of Corporate America, now she was a member of Entrepreneurship Tulsa with her destiny in her own hands.

She enlarged the room, again, about a decade ago, expanding the Depot to about three times its original size.

She has watched as her neighborhood has expanded to many, many times its original size.

Still, the tavern has maintained much of its original character. Hamm, too, has maintained the personality, the drive that identified the Depot as a local destination of choice in the decade of the ‘90s.

There is the same neighborhood ambience, infused with good food, quiet conversation, a well-stocked, rectangle-shaped bar.

The Depot interior might not be the brightest in town. Lighting could be described as subdued. Much of the lighting is filtered through the screens of about a dozen TV screens.

The mood of the room is established and perpetuated under the watchful eye of an amiable staff.

As the soft-spoken Hamm says, with pride and repetition, it is the staff that has kept this Depot on track. One employee has been by her side for 19 years. Five-year employees are common.

Such longevity is rare in the bar-service industry. Even rarer is the 25 years put in by Nancy Lawyer Hamm.

Beneath this layer of loyalty between employee and employer is a stratum of respect. It runs the full length of the bar.

Hamm has harnessed those parcels of civility and regard, calling together her staff as one large family.

Staff members earnestly and resolutely adhere to the Nancy Way of Operation.

Even though the Depot is open seven days a week, staff outings to her lakeside lodgings are normal occurrences.

Also common is the sight of Hamm behind the bar, in the kitchen.

She can, and will, handle all duties and chores. She relishes the opportunity to spend a shift among the patrons who have been as loyal as her staff.

In particular, she is drawn to the kitchen, where she skillfully prepares such staples as burgers and sandwiches, even popular and fresh salads.

The menu, arguably simple but never mundane, has helped Hamm outlast a number of chain-operated eateries that popped up in her neighborhood since 1992. She is quick to credit her staff for any such happenstance.

However, she acknowledges that the bar trade has moved slightly ahead of the kitchen. She now prefers the label “tavern” over more common designations as “bar” or “restaurant.”

And with the return in July of live weekend music, the term “tavern” would appear justified.

After 25 years, the nomenclature is about the only thing that has changed in Hamm’s world.

Well, certainly her workload has changed.

In the early days of the Depot, Hamm often found herself returning to the world of technology for short stints just to pay the bills.

It was all a part of that cattle-farm upbringing, that sense of self-sufficiency.

She had struck out on her own in a volatile business environment. She did not want to fail. She was not going to fail. That would be unacceptable.

Through no fault of her own, she had traded her business-world benefits for service-industry unpredictability.

Nancy Lawyer Hamm eliminated that unpredictability. With her work ethic, with her vision, with her tenacity, she built a 25-year tradition that has shown no signs of slowing. All signs point to moving forward.

Updated 07-24-2017

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