It’s impossible to talk about Seattle brewery history without mentioning Rose Ann Finkel, co-founder of The Pike Brewing Company. From her arrival in Seattle in the mid ‘70s, she helped shape the way this city ate, thought about beer and how the two best complemented each other.
Surrounded by her family at home, Mrs. Finkel died on Tuesday, June 16, from Myelodysplastic syndrome blood cancer. She was 73.
Mrs. Finkel was born in New Orleans in 1947 and raised in Houston, where she met Charles — who would become her husband of nearly 52 years.
The couple was introduced by a mutual friend in 1968. Mrs. Finkel was working as a dental hygienist, Mr. Finkel was a wine salesman. They were engaged after one month of dating and married six months later.
“I always said I married her for her money, as she made $100 more a month than I did,” Mr. Finkel said during a recent phone call.
Even though she made more money, he was the one with the expense account that allowed the couple to dine nightly at the swankiest restaurants in Houston. The evening he proposed, Mr. Finkel had restaurant staff hide the ring in an old Minox film tin inside a baked Alaska. He still carries a photo from that evening in his wallet.
The couple was married at the Shamrock Hilton Hotel, famous at the time as the setting for the 1956 film “Giant” starring Rock Hudson, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor.
The Finkels founded their first business, Bon-Vin, together in 1969. Specializing in imported boutique wine, the business was acquired by the owners of Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1974, and the Finkels moved to Seattle, where they started Pike Brewing in 1989.
But before the brewery came a nationally acclaimed specialty food store — Truffles, started by Mrs. Finkel and Marjorie Danz in Laurelhurst in 1977 — and Merchant du Vin, which the husband and wife team opened to introduce specialty beers from small, family-run breweries in Europe and across the United States to a wider audience. They are credited with bringing craft beers from England, Germany and Belgium to American drinkers.
Even before Merchant du Vin opened, Truffles was “one of the first to specialize in good beer,” Finkel said. “It wasn’t a Jewish deli, but it had corned beef from Katz Deli in New York. Rose Ann is a phenomenal cheesecake baker, and we had the most wonderful desserts. It makes me sad that I’ll never be able to have one of her cheesecakes again.”
Over the years Mrs. Finkel cemented a reputation for herself as a gracious bon vivant. She championed Slow Food ideals, was a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and was an active philanthropist.
“Rose Ann was the person saying, ‘how can I help?’ She always went above and beyond. People don’t often have that generosity,” Deborah Rosen said.
Rosen and Mrs. Finkel were part of a group of six women who referred to themselves as “The Committee,” near lifelong friends who saw each other through all of life’s events and planned and threw lavish parties for each one — often held at the Finkel’s Windermere home.
Rosen describes Mrs. Finkel as “the mother a few of the Committee members never had.”
“She was the least judgmental person. You could tell her anything, and you knew it was absolutely confidential. You could just trust Rose Ann. She had this ability to have this sister- and mother-like love and acceptance,” Rosen says.
At the same time, Mrs. Finkel could be one of the most raucous in the room, forever fooling people at the game “two truths and a lie.”
“People gravitated toward her,” Rosen says.
Mrs. Finkel was an avid traveler, an inveterate reader and a role model for many women in the food and beverage industry.
“She was always positive, warm, affectionate and smiling. You just felt embraced by that when you met her,” Rosen says.
Finkel recalls a trip to China where people would often ask to have their picture taken with his “strikingly beautiful” wife who had “striking silver” hair.
“They were polite enough to ask us both, but I knew damn well it was her,” he said.
The couple sold Pike Brewery and Pike Pub in 1997 but reacquired it in 2006. In between, the Finkels traveled extensively. They also joined the board of the Weizmann Institute of Science and judged the Slow Food Awards at the biannual Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy.
After returning to Pike Brewery, the couple served as the marketing team.
In 2018 Mrs. Finkel was diagnosed with MDS, a leukemia-related blood disorder, and the couple stepped away from the mainstream business to focus on her health. They shared ownership with three longtime employees Drew Gillespie, Patti Baker and Gary Marx.
Eight months ago, Mrs. Finkel underwent a bone-marrow transplant and just three weeks before her death had begun chemotherapy again. However, with COVID-19 restrictions, she was alone in the hospital and decided to return to her home with her husband and their adult children, Andrew and Amy.
“We spent a wonderful two weeks with Rose Ann until she passed away. We made her bedroom into a palace anteroom. She was a queen well-taken care of,” Finkel says.
Above all, Mrs. Finkel will be remembered for her humility.
” She had no idea how much her charm and warm embracing of people impacted them,” Rosen said.