A free spirit who both lived on her own terms and was deeply committed to her family and friends, Rachel Schwolow donned a shark costume on July 4, 2022, surely planning to afflict her friends with laughter. Then something went wrong; she became trapped in her costume as it filled with water on the East End beach, and she drowned in her beloved Provincetown Harbor. She had just turned 50.
Rachel “was a marvel of enthusiasm, generosity, kindness, and laughter — lit from the inside and out,” wrote her friend Jennifer Cabral in an online memorial. “She ran at life with a ferocity that woke up everyone around her, none of us even realizing we had been asleep. Even the way she died, which is so incredible and devastating to us now, is the stuff of legend.”
The daughter of Axel and Angelika Schwolow, Rachel was born in Iserlohn, Germany on April 30, 1972. When she was five, her mother moved her from Germany to a commune in Jávea, Spain, where they promptly agreed it was best to embark on a 42-day trip aboard a 42-foot sailboat for fairer shores westward.
After turning six in Gibraltar, Rachel found herself in school in Key Largo, Fla. before moving to the Outer Cape to spend her formative years. She grew up in her mother’s Truro restaurant, The Mediterranean, and a lifelong love of the food and beverage industry was born. She knew when she left Provincetown to finish high school in Montclair, N.J. that she would always return home to Land’s End.
American University in Washington, D.C. was wise enough to offer Rachel a full athletic scholarship to play field hockey. She had her eye on an Olympic career. As in life, she played forward and was a natural captain. The U.S. granted the German phenom citizenship and attempted to groom the ungroomable for international competition. She competed in the 1993 and 1994 Olympic Festivals, winning gold and silver.
Despite her desire to play for the U.S., Rachel remained German in spirit through and through and went home to visit her beloved grandmother Gerda as often as possible. Until Gerda’s death in 2020, they shared a conspiratorial friendship that made everyone wonder what they were up to, which was always something.
Rachel graduated in 1994 with a B.A. in international relations, then returned to Truro and began a legendary career as a Provincetown service industry dynamo at the Surf Club. Her longest reign was at Bubala’s, which began in 1995 and which she would call home off and on for decades.
One morning, when a breakfast chef didn’t show up, Rachel marched into the kitchen, delivered an expletive, and said, “I can cook breakfast.” And she did. She could fill any role in any restaurant and did so at, among other places, Cafe Heaven, Victor’s, the Red Inn, the Crown & Anchor, Local 186, JD’s, the Red Room, and, most recently, Joon Bar.
She was preparing to return to the Surf Club when it reopened this summer. At each establishment, she showed everyone how to do their jobs better and made it her mission to put systems and protocols in place and have a great time while providing over-the-top customer service. Dining with Rachel was an unforgettable experience.
When she wasn’t working in Provincetown, she was traveling the world and working in some of the finest restaurants in the country.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1997, Rachel moved to Aspen for a two-year stint at the Little Nell, the only five-star, five-diamond Aspen hotel, where she once made a teenage Ivanka Trump get out of a hot tub with three men.
Back on the East Coast in the early 2000s, Rachel helmed chef Chris Douglass’s iconic Boston eateries Icarus and Ashmont Grill as general manager while completing her sommelier certification. But as always, Provincetown called her home.
Icarus closed on July 1, 2009, and she drove that day to 560 Commercial St., where she would live with friends and affordably house workers for years. A book could be written on their time at that house alone. She seemed to have finally found a home at 560 with her girlfriend Kelli Hitchcock.
She began to put down year-round roots until the itch to travel demanded to be scratched once again. She started to work winters in Los Angeles in 2014 at celebrity chef Suzanne Tracht’s Melrose chophouse JAR, often cited as one of the city’s best restaurants.
During her stint in L.A., a friend of Rachel’s stepbrother Scott, Charlie Holmes, called to say he was coming to the city for a show and would like to hang out. A love affair began, and the two were married on Provincetown Harbor on June 21, 2019.
For the last three years, Rachel and Charlie spent their time building homes together in Todo Santos, Mexico and Leeds, N.Y. during those rare moments when they didn’t feel like traveling. Along with their homes in Boston, they’d created a veritable Bermuda Triangle of bases to call home on the North American continent.
Rachel started celebrating her 50th birthday in April in Mexico, where she was joined by many of her closest friends. The party continued in Barcelona, Spain in June for loved ones like Angelika who could not make it to Mexico. Rachel finally made it home to Provincetown to work late last month and was looking forward to an exciting and rewarding season here.
Rachel will be missed like crazy and would insist that we all drop what we’re doing, stop crying, apply some flash tats, turn up the music, do the thing, take the trip, create the adventure, make the memory, work harder, play harder, and love hardest.
Rachel leaves her beloved mother, Angelika, of Iserlohn, Germany; husband Charlie of Boston; father Axel of Margaretville, N.Y.; stepmother Rhoda of Todos Santos, Mexico; stepfather Bob of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and his children, Scott of Milton and Amanda of Simpsonville, S.C.; stepsister Arielle of Harwich; and innumerable friends and fans all over the world.