Marlene Beadle had the ability to see all the finer details of the big picture.
The founder and namesake of Marlene’s Market & Deli died on June 16, but the legacy she pioneered in the natural foods industry will live on.
Beadle was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 79 and endured a fierce six-year battle, family members say.
“She beat the cancer, but complications from some of the treatments caused issues and exhaustion, and eventually her body said it had enough,” said Jennifer Lehman, Beadle’s youngest daughter and the business’s finance manager.
In 1968, Beadle read the book “Know Your Nutrition” by Linda Clark and then “Twinkies disappeared from our home at that time,” said Lisa Gebhardt, Beadle’s eldest daughter and the general manager of Marlene’s Market & Deli, which has locations in Federal Way and Tacoma.
“She was a visionary, no doubt about that,” Gebhardt said. “She saw that natural foods were what was important for health — whether it’s people’s health, environmental health, mental health, just all aspects.”
Beadle worked for a natural foods store before purchasing it from the original owner on April 1, 1976. She changed the name to Federal Way Health Foods to reflect the community connection, but the store ultimately settled on Marlene’s Market & Deli.
At this time, Marlene’s was one of the first natural food stores to open in the South Puget Sound. Her business plan was always natural, instinctive, and right on target, Gebhardt said.
In 1989, it moved into a storefront on the west end of Gateway Center Plaza, finally moving into its permanent home in 2004 — a two-story storefront on the east end of Gateway Center Plaza, the former REI building, near I-5 in Federal Way.
In 1996, Beadle decided to expand to Tacoma and opened a then-12,000-square-foot storefront at 2951 S. 38th St. In 2014, the store was expanded another 3,000 square feet.
“One of the hardest things is to come in here and not see her every day,” Gebhardt said. Gebhardt, now 62, began working at the store when she was 19 years old.
Beadle’s natural foods journey started at age 42, an age where most people wind down, said Lehman, who began working at Marlene’s as a teen. Beadle’s son, Tim Beadle, also works at the store as the maintenance manager.
“The store was her fourth baby,” Lehman said with a laugh.
“And we’re pretty sure it was her favorite,” Gebhardt added.
A few of Beadle’s grandkids work at the store, too. The intention was never to make it a family business as “she didn’t expect us to be, but was thrilled that we were,” Gebhardt said.
After starting with just three employees, Marlene’s now has 182 employees between both store locations and celebrated 40 years of business in 2016.
While some people may say she was a micromanager, her daughters agree it was just Beadle’s way of keeping up with the store’s happenings and striving for excellence in all aspects of the business.
The common memory most employees share is Beadle’s instructions on how to wring out wet towels. There was a specific way to fold and twist the towels to make them barely damp and also stop bacteria from growing, Beadle would explain.
“People still remember that,” Gebhardt said. “Even when she was ill and had caretakers, that was the first thing her caretaker learned.”
Beadle also made her own trail mix, Marlene’s Merry Mix. The ingredient precision is still practiced to this day: almonds hand-sliced down the middle to ensure all pieces are the same size, thus making it easier to eat.
“She checked on her store all the time … she just loved being here. She loved this whole environment. She loved helping people,” Gebhardt said, noting Beadle would often share updates of her health journey through employee newsletters or in her daily chats with regular customers.
Beadle was happiest when she saw customers with shopping carts filled with colorful produce and the basics for fresh, healthy meals, her daughters agreed.
She was a family-oriented person with three kids, six grandkids, and two great-grandkids.
In 2016, the entire 18-member family went to Hawaii to celebrate Marlene and Irv Beadle’s 60th wedding anniversary.
As high school sweethearts married for nearly 64 years, Gebhardt remembers the couple saying “we love each other more every year.”
Beadle enjoyed traveling all over the world alone and with her husband. She went on hiking trips, biking trips, and had a knack for gardening. She learned to sail. She ran her first marathon at age 50.
“People say ‘live life to the fullest,’ boy… she really did,” Gebhardt said.
Both a community and outdoor aficionado herself, Beadle was active in environmental matters and various organizations throughout King County, such as Federal Way’s West Hylebos Wetlands, senior sports teams, and the Federal Way Historical Society, among others.
She served on various executive boards, such as the Northwest division of the Natural Products Association (previously known as the National Nutritional Foods Association) and other grassroots organizations focused on non-GMO product advocacy.
Beadle’s passion for the arts was also honored through the naming of “Marlene’s Mezzanine” at the Performing Arts and Event Center in Federal Way.
Lehman said she will miss seeing her mother’s touch throughout the community.
“‘What would you have done next?’ or ‘How much more would you be involved with the Hylebos? Would you be on a board somewhere still?’” Lehman said. “When I think of mom, I think about … [how] she was with family and how she wanted to make this world healthier.”