by Ashley Lodato
Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer
Although Marlene Beadle was met with “moans and groans” from her family when she introduced a new, healthier way of eating at home, Marlene was undeterred. “Our family came to realize how fresh and flavorful the meals were that she was making,” says Marlene’s daughter, Lisa Gebhardt, who gives her mother full credit for the food philosophy she developed and still holds to this day.
Marlene’s interest in whole grains, natural sweeteners, and abundant fresh produce soon extended beyond the family dinner table, however, when Marlene purchased a tiny health food store in Federal Way in 1976, later naming it Marlene’s Market & Deli. “She immediately doubled the inventory with foods made from natural and organically grown ingredients,” says Lisa, noting that the founding principles of sourcing organic, sustainably-produced and socially-responsible products were and continue to be the underpinning of Marlene’s Market & Deli (MMD). “Commitment to organically grown, non-GMO, environmentalism, support of the community, and helping people was a complete circle for [Marlene] that all together built health in an individual, a business, a community, and the world,” says Lisa. “This is what we continue to believe at MMD. We work to teach our employees to help us carry on our commitment to Marlene’s founding belief.”
Marlene’s belief in quality natural foods anchored MMD, but it was “her caring for her customers was the basis for a business that continued to grow over 43 years,” says Lisa, who started working with her mother at MMD while she was in college, packaging bulk foods and grains in the back room, and who is now the business’s general manager. “I discovered I took after her in my enjoyment of helping people and running a business, so I continued to learn every aspect of it. After 43 years, I’ve done every position except making espresso!” Lisa says.
The legacy of enthusiastic customer service and high-quality products was not the only thing Marlene passed down to Lisa, however, “I learned how to make amazingly yummy cookies with natural ingredients,” says Lisa, who carried that tradition on with her daughter, who, according to Lisa, “now has a reputation as making the ‘best’ cookies!”
The steady and thoughtful growth of MMD over the past 40+ years is a testament to the vital role it occupies in the communities it serves. Twenty years after the flagship store opened in Federal Way, Marlene and her crew launched a new market in Tacoma, which proved as successful as the original store. Lisa attributes the market’s popularity to its commitment to quality. “Our customers appreciate that we buy from local companies committed to exemplary quality,” she says, adding, “Marlene’s has always supported local, small businesses.” She calls this a “win-win-win”: the small businesses win, MMD wins, and the customers, who benefit from the range and quality of products available at MMD, also win.
One example of the 3/win scenario was when MMD came across Bluebird Grain Farms during product research. “Our then Bulk Category Manager, Michelle, happened to be traveling through Winthrop and saw Bluebird Grain Farms products in the community,” Lisa says. “What a great connection to make! We brought Bluebird Grain Farms products in shortly after that – right now, we carry whole grain emmer and whole grain emmer pancake and waffle mix.”
MMD recognizes that newly-harvested and milled grains are best eaten in their most fresh condition, so, Lisa says, “we have a specially built bulk room that maintains the optimal temperature grains, nuts, seeds, and flours, which ensures that Bluebird Grain Farms products are as tasty and fresh as possible.”
With nine departments (grocery, refrigerated, frozen, bulk, mercantile, body care, supplements, produce, beer/wine/spirits), two locations, and 100 employees, MMD has come a long way since its original 1000 sq.ft. storefront in Federal Way. It now hosts classes featuring naturopaths, nutritionists, chefs, authors and other leaders in the natural healing community. MMD offers recipes, catering, a deli, and a bakery that uses organic flours and unrefined sweeteners to create treats like vegan chocolate cake, black bottom cupcakes, lemon sour cream pie, and zucchini bread. And if you seek vegetarian, vegan, wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or raw dishes, you’ll find a delicious variety at MMD; they even bake gluten-free bread to order.
Ultimately, what Marlene’s Market & Deli has supported for two generations is a healthy lifestyle through products that promote positive and beneficial choices for the things we put into and onto our bodies. What began around Marlene’s kitchen table as a sustainable approach to living has blossomed into a community resource that is the foundation of a healthy way of life for thousands of individuals and families in southern Puget Sound.