Marlene’s in Federal Way celebrates 40 years in business April 1

Marlene's Market & Deli at 2565 S. Gateway Center Place in Federal Way — one of the few remaining independent and family-owned purveyors of natural and organic foods in the South Puget Sound — is celebrating 40 years of business on April 1.

Lisa Gebhardt (middle) and her mother

Marlene’s Market & Deli at 2565 S. Gateway Center Place in Federal Way — one of the few remaining independent and family-owned purveyors of natural and organic foods in the South Puget Sound — is celebrating 40 years of business on April 1.

Marlene Beadle, the woman behind the name, couldn’t be prouder.

“What’s neat about our stores is how long our customers have stuck with us for 40 years,” Beadle said.

Generations of customers have remained loyal to Beadle’s stores and, in turn, Beadle — now a spry, silver-haired 81-year-old — has remained loyal to them, never wavering on her promise for 100 percent organic produce and superior customer service.

Along with providing fresh, organic produce in their Federal Way and Tacoma locations, Marlene’s also educates its customers, providing evening workshops Tuesdays and Thursdays and morning workshops on Saturdays.

“We support the community and help the community,” said Lisa Gebhardt, Marlene’s general manager and the daughter of its namesake.

Customer loyalty to the stores is exemplified in pictures canvassing the walls of Beadle’s office. Yes, Beadle — after 40 years — still holds regular office hours at the Federal Way store. She said she starts her day with a nutrient-rich protein shake and pumps iron regularly with a personal trainer.

On a Monday in March, Beadle walked freely through her two-story, 22,000-square-foot flagship store, which is considered an unofficial anchor at Gateway Center Plaza. She had lunch with her husband of 60 years, Irv Beadle, a retired Boeing employee, at a booth in the deli area. Afterward, she took a walk through the back kitchen and observed one longtime employee (with the company for more than 20 years) preparing a fresh pizza.

Looking back, Gebhardt said the organic food industry has always been fun because it’s ever-changing.

“The industry is so revolutionized,” said Lori Lively, director of education and public relations for Marlene’s. “Marlene studied nutrition and knew organic was better for you and history proved right.”

Gebhardt, whose brother and sister are also part of the family business, said her mother was a pioneer in the industry, ahead of her time as a woman entrepreneur.

“My mom was a visionary,” Gebhardt said. “She knew when to move locations, expand, add products — she had a good instinct.”

Marlene Beadle, when she was 41, purchased what was then House of Foods in 1976 and opened April 1 at 31313-G Pacific Highway S. in Federal Way, renaming it Federal Way Health Foods to better reflect the store’s community connection.

Lively said that in the 1970s, a lot of little health food stores were popping up in the U.S., but the concept of natural and organic foods was still relatively new. Marlene’s Federal Way Health Foods was one of the first to open in the South Puget Sound.

Over the years, the store name changed several times before finally settling on Marlene’s Market & Deli. 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.

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.

Gebhardt said her mother’s stores have enjoyed remarkable growth year over year. Starting with three employees in 1976, the stores now boast more than 150 employees. Employee loyalty is high.

“We’ve never stopped growing,” Gebhardt said. “In the lean years of 2006, 2007, 2008, we didn’t have to lay off anybody. Over the different economies, we have continued to grow.”

Lively said the Beadle family is disciplined about putting money back into the business, never cutting back on quality.

“It’s an achievement,” she said.

For more information on Marlene’s, visit marlenesmarket-deli.com.

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