Sad and shocking news hit the Seattle food world this week, when Seattle Met reported that Rachel Marshall, the founder of Rachel’s Ginger Beer and co-owner of bars Montana and Nacho Borracho, had died unexpectedly at the age of 42 from liver failure.
A heart-wrenching obituary written by Met executive editor Allecia Vermillion, who was Marshall’s friend, recounts Marshall’s kindness, generosity, and keen eye for detail:
She had fierce mama bear energy and was protective of people in her orbit. She reserved special ire for anyone who shortchanged (or opened a competing business near) any member of her band of friends. As someone who keeps my emotions measured, at least on the outside, being the recipient of this gale force love was uncharted territory.
“You’ve been quiet lately,” she might text. “Everything okay?” Her years waiting tables—at Lark, Oddfellows, Delancey—gave her a bionic vision for hospitality. She told me once that Kelly Ronan at Lark makes sure her staff greets customers when they walk through the door, and bids them farewell when they leave. She instilled that at her own businesses. I genuinely forget the restaurant, but once we went out to dinner and Rachel was scandalized that the place had dusty HVAC vents. Once she had pointed out the details that made a restaurant great—or less great—I couldn’t unsee them.
Those who didn’t know Marshall personally probably know about her through Rachel’s Ginger Beer (RGB), which she started in the kitchen of John Sundstrom’s bar Licorous. Inspired from her time living in Europe, the ginger beer is a pungent, thoroughly adult (though nonalcoholic) beverage, a world away from typical ginger ale. She went from selling it at farmer’s markets to having four storefronts throughout Seattle — including a flagship Pike Place location — and shipping her products all over the country.
With her business partner Kate Opatz, she opened the widely celebrated Capitol Hill dive Montana in 2010, which was the first Seattle bar to have cocktails on tap. It was right next to RGB until the ginger beer production facility had to move into a more industrial space. Marshall and Opatz followed Montana up with Nacho Borracho in 2014.
A week after the news of Marshall’s death spread, the family released a statement clarifying the cause of death. “Rachel died from hepatic cirrhosis caused by chronic ethanolism. In other words, she drank too much for too long, and her liver stopped functioning,” the family said in the statement shared by Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. According to this statement, Marshall had fallen into a depression during the COVID-19 lockdown and used alcohol to cope. “Covid faded but the drinking didn’t, and this became its own source of depression, and this was the spiral she was caught in when she died.”
Her passing was noted by many in the Capitol Hill restaurant community, including Taylor Cheney of Yalla, who posted this remembrance on Instagram:
Just a couple weeks ago I had a scary situation at the shop and saw her walking by, I burst into tears and she said get over here, close the shop for a min and come to Montana. She poured me and my bf shots of fernet and ginger beer and after I calmed a bit and she cried with me…she said okay let’s all go around and say something we are grateful for. She encouraged me to never get let down by this world and to remember that there are still good people and helpers in this world. She continued to follow up in the next few weeks and told me how much she loved me and wanted to make sure I was okay. I hope people don’t just remember her for being a successful business woman but for her compassion.
Marshall made herself part of the fabric of Seattle not just through her businesses but through those sorts of everyday acts of care. She will be missed by her partner Adam Peters and their two children, but her passing also leaves a hole in the city that will take a long time to fill.
“Rachel’s ability to create connections and relationships with people was inspiring,” says Doh Driver, Peters’s sister and the COO of RGB. “We will honor Rachel’s vision and legacy as we learn to run RGB without her.”
Update May 5, 4:30 p.m.: This post has been updated to include additional information about the cause of death.