Raise a glass — or a bottle or a growler — to one of the new faces of Seattle.
Rachel Marshall is set to open a flagship Rachel’s Ginger Beer soda fountain and bar in one of the prime storefronts of Pike Place Market. She’ll be in the spot that housed a Seattle’s Best Coffee storefront for more than 25 years, a tourist icon for its giant neon coffee cup. (One-time indie SBC was purchased in 2003 by Starbucks, which has its own flagship store around the corner.)
Marshall has made a name for herself with another kind of brew, the zingy ginger beer that she started developing a few years back. What started as a side business when she was waitressing at Seattle restaurants like Delancey and Lark soon exploded into a drinkable mini-empire. The nonalcoholic soda has been a favorite at fine restaurants and in the refrigerator cases at specialty shops. Fans fill growlers of the beverage and buy bottles at Marshall’s farmers market stands, and the soda’s a base for cocktails at hip local establishments, including Montana, the Capitol Hill bar Marshall and partner Adam Peters own with friend Kate Opatz.
Even when Marshall was hand-juicing small batches of lemons and grating her ginger root, trying to duplicate the fresh beverages she’d enjoyed in her years working in Europe, she said she knew “pretty much from the get-go” she would want a store at Pike Place.
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“It doesn’t get better than right here,” she said, the Market’s iconic neon sign visible from her front window.
She had actually put off opening a Rachel’s shop at her former headquarters on Capitol Hill, knowing that the overseers of the historic market would want any storefront there to be a flagship rather than a branch. When the phone rang with an invitation to take over the SBC spot, she was ready.
Profit margins are low and ingredients for the all-natural soda are expensive, Marshall said — fresh lemons, knobs of ginger and fair-trade organic cane sugar. She had figured she had two choices to grow the business. One was to make her carbonated soda shelf-stable and add preservatives and flavorings to extend her ingredients. “I just can’t do that,” she said. “If we make it shelf-stable, the lemons are going to taste like Pledge.”
The other option, the former marketing major said, was just to sell more soda locally. “I realized 10 million people a year go through Pike Place,” she explained.
Marshall expects the 50-seat shop to be open from around 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (check rachelsgingerbeer.com for final opening dates and hours), selling sodas, cocktails based on the sodas, and floats using Cupcake Royale ice cream, as well as seasonal soda flavors using ingredients from neighboring farmers like strawberries and Asian pears and (really!) kale. Even now, she gets calls from vendors she’s met at her farmers-market stops, saying things like, “It’s the end of the day in Pike Place. We’ve still got 100 pounds of raspberries. Do you want them?”
A mural already decorates the walls, and the display case will be modeled on the famed Pike Place Fish throwers stand, with tiers of crushed ice stocked with bottles of soda. She’s thinking of frozen boozy drinks in the summer and ginger hot toddies in the winter. Next up is a line of ginger syrup.
She expects to quadruple production in the new shop, with the help of “an incredible” $75,000 juicer just purchased and transported from Spain. It will process 100 gallons of lemon juice per hour, up from the current eight.
“It’s a complete game changer for us,” she said.
She’ll still be at the farmers markets, whose early support she so appreciates — “they gave us a chance,” she said. And she won’t change the quality control she established from her first small batch.
“Every single keg gets tasted every time,” she said.
Asked why she’d want a retail shop, rather than just expanding her wholesale operation, she said there’s still nothing quite like service, like brightening someone’s day.
“That’s so good. It’s so tangible,” she said. “There’s nothing as great to me as hospitality.”
Rebekah Denn blogs about food at seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat