Gretchen Mathers, a remarkable woman known for her culinary prowess and entrepreneurial spirit, left an indelible mark on the restaurant industry. Born in Spokane to Jim and Helen Mathers, Gretchen grew up on Capitol Hill and graduated from Garfield High School. Her journey from dreaming of becoming Betty Crocker to becoming a renowned restaurateur is an inspiring tale of determination and passion.
Early Career and Culinary Adventures
After graduating from Washington State University in 1962 with a degree in foods and nutrition, Gretchen embarked on a career that would take her across the country. She started working at Stouffer Restaurants in Cleveland and New York, eventually becoming the executive assistant dietician at the Top of the Sixes in New York City.
Her talent and dedication caught the attention of General Foods Corporation, where she contributed to the development of beloved products like Cool Whip and Stove Top stuffing.
In 1974, Gretchen returned to Seattle and joined Western International Hotels, now known as Westin Hotels. She became the director of food and beverage, breaking barriers as the first female to hold that position within the chain. Despite her success, Gretchen yearned for something more, a venture that would allow her to showcase her culinary creativity and passion for hospitality.
Triumph Over Adversity
With the support of her employees, family, and friends, Gretchen pressed forward, defying the challenges posed by her illness. Each night, her mother, Helen, would wash and iron the cloth napkins and even lend a hand in scrubbing the floors.
Despite the hardships, Gretchen’s determination and passion for her craft never wavered. From 1979 to 1987, she successfully operated five cafeteria-style restaurants under the Gretchen’s of Course brand and built a thriving catering business.
Gretchen’s of Course became synonymous with delectable salads, such as the famous chicken tarragon and ziti pasta with sausage. Her culinary creations delighted countless patrons, and her restaurants became gathering places for Seattle’s foodies.
However, in 1987, an opportunity to join forces with John and Bill Schwartz, managing the combined catering operations for Gretchen’s of Course and Schwartz Brothers Catering, presented itself. Gretchen saw the potential for growth and took the leap.
A Life Well-Lived
Gretchen Mathers lived life with elegance, courage, and vivacity. Her love for her family and friends was evident in the countless hours spent together, celebrating birthdays, weddings, and other joyous occasions. She cherished her foodie friends, who often gathered in her kitchen, and enjoyed swimming with the Aqua Babes at The Seattle Tennis Club. Family reunions at Loon Lake created cherished memories, and her home in Maui offered a slice of paradise for loved ones to gather.
Gretchen’s impact extended beyond her immediate circle. She touched the lives of many through her philanthropic endeavors and her willingness to share her experiences as a cancer survivor. Gretchen’s keynote speech at the Swedish Hospital Women’s Wellness luncheon in September 2006 inspired many with her resilience and wisdom. Sadly, her breast cancer returned three weeks later, ultimately leading to her passing.
Remembering Gretchen Mathers
Gretchen Mathers’ legacy lives on through her father, Jim, and her brothers, Tom, Bill, and Jack, along with their children. To honor her memory, a Celebration of Life event will be held on August 26 at the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya.
Attendees will have the opportunity to savor Gretchen’s famous chocolate chip cookies, a beloved treat she shared with those closest to her. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to The Swedish Medical Center Foundation Hospice Program or a charity of choice.
Gretchen Mathers’ journey from dreaming of becoming Betty Crocker to establishing a culinary empire is a testament to the power of perseverance and passion. Her impact on the restaurant industry, her community, and the lives she touched will be felt for years to come.
As we celebrate her life and honor her legacy, let us remember the joy she brought through her delectable creations and her unwavering commitment to excellence. Gretchen, may your culinary adventures continue to inspire and delight.