Maria Chau's Changing Idea of Success

Former in-house counsel's path takes an entrepreneurial turn

Priscilla Popp - 29 May 2019

Maria Chau's idea of success in the legal profession has changed since she graduated from UAlberta Law in 2008.

"In law school, I had, as many people do, aspirations of wearing the suit and working in a downtown tower," she says.

Upon graduating, Chau did just that - articling at Miller Thomson LLP in Edmonton, where she worked in commercial litigation and bankruptcy insolvency. After three years at Miller Thomson, she became in-house counsel for Ledcor Group of Companies.

"Practising in bankruptcy/insolvency, I spent a lot of my time dismantling things - it's fast-paced and exciting, but after a while I wanted to try my hand at building something up. I wagered that I'd have a chance to do that as in-house counsel," Chau says.

Although it was initially a bit of a culture shock to change from the faster pace and production-based success metrics of private practice, her gamble worked out, offering her the opportunity to focus on joint ventures, public-private partnership projects (and other collaborative pursuits.

Meanwhile, a collaborative project of a different sort prompted yet another new role.

During law school, she had worked at the Mayfair Golf and Country Club as a server, where she met her partner Darren Zwicker, then the club's executive sous chef. By the time Chau was at Ledcor, Zwicker had been operating a catering business for several years and when he felt ready to open his own business, the pair decided to undertake the project together.

"I left Ledcor in January 2017 and we opened up Zwick's Pretzels five days later," she says.

"There wasn't much precedent for a stand-alone pretzel shop in Edmonton, so we figured that when it failed, we'd just sell the shop and travel for a while," she says. Instead, "It caught on like wildfire." Today, the shop has seven employees and has expanded the menu with more sandwich options and a line of house-made sodas.