By Michael Aushenker
Two locales served as the backdrop for the phenomenal rise of Patrón tequila: Mexico… and Marina del Rey.
As the longtime companion of Martin Crowley, one-half of the partnership which spawned the Patrón empire, former Marina del Rey resident Ilana Edelstein was not only witness to the entire success story, she was a silent partner in it. In her new memoir, “The Patrón Way: From Fantasy to Fortune – Lessons on Taking Any Business from Idea to Iconic Brand,” Edelstein outlines the rise and sale of Patrón, with all of the intoxicating highlights – and the sobering pitfalls – that came along the way.
“I was just there by default,” Edelstein said of her role in the company’s success. “I was involved every step of the way, from designing to setting up the whole corporation.”
Edelstein will hold a reception for her book from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 2 at Lula Cocina Mexicana, 2720 Main St., Santa Monica, where the author will be available to sign copies and take pictures. Hors d’oeuvres will be served, along with a tequila tasting. Information, thepatronway.com.
In hindsight, Patrón, a quality spirit with a sexy name, packaging and marketing campaign, appeared to be the alcoholic embodiment of the Me Decade. Initially a tiny boutique brand, which added “Ultra-Premium” to the roster of tequila levels (alongside Silver, Reposado, Anejo, etc.), also abided by the time-honored tradition of jimadores, the exquisitely produced glass vessels have passed down through generations of families. In the most unorthodox of ways, Edelstein and the two partners muscled their product into the marketplace by pouring the upscale tequila into L.A.’s celebrity bloodstream.
Edelstein originally moved to Sherman Oaks from her native South Africa. In the early 1980s, she discovered Marina del Rey after following a boyfriend there. She considers the coastal community “the best kept secret in L.A.
“Once you’ve been exposed to that beach community, you’re aware of your neighbors,” Edelstein continued. “I love the community feel, I loved living at the beach.”
Crowley went into partnership with John Paul DeJoria, whom he met only a month after meeting Edelstein.
“Martin could not have found a more perfect partner for building a brand, because J.P. had been there once before,” she said. “Through John Paul Mitchell Systems, (DeJoria) knew what it took to build a consumer brand that no one else believed in. Like Martin, he came from a broken home and built up his fortune from nothing. His family had no money.”
Edelstein met Crowley near the Marina at a friend’s wine tasting at one of the buildings on Pacific Avenue.
In 1989, while on a visit to Mexico, Crowley came across the original tequila factory in Atotonilco El Alto. “He took their whole supply (5,000 cases),” Edelstein said. “He came up with the name, the label. We had no idea what we were getting into.”
Organically, one of the most popular brands of alcohol in the world was born.
“We were indulging our creative side,” she recalled. “Martin was the true entrepreneur. He did nothing for fun. Every thing became a tangible thing, even if he didn’t consciously decide to do it.”
In certain circles, Marina del Rey in the 1980s represented sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – or, at least, a lot of partying, she remembered. During that decadent era, Crowley and Edelstein partied like rock stars – and with rock stars: Clarence “Big Man” Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band flew in on Edelstein’s 45th birthday to serenade her by saxophone. One of the earliest Patrón parties in Beverly Hills featured actors Cheech Marin, James Woods, and Woods’ buddy, David Carradine. When a crasher showed up, Carradine put his arm around the interloper and jumped into the pool, taking the guy into the brink with him.
After five years on the Marina Peninsula, the couple moved up to Montecito at the peak of their label’s success.
What followed next was what Edelstein calls “a very dark period” – an acrimonious split between her and Crowley and three months of courtroom “backstabbing,” followed by Crowley’s abrupt death.
“The trial was so bizarre, no one would believe it was real,” she said.
Nevertheless, Crowley’s sudden passing was a heart break and a wake-up call for Edelstein.
Upon Crowley’s demise, Bacardi pursued his interest in Patrón Spirits Company, which DeJoria now had control of, but DeJoria kept resisting the rum manufacturer’s advances as Patrón’s revenues heightened with each year. In July 2008, DeJoria and Bacardi finally announced the deal for an unspecified minority stake in the company. What Bacardi reportedly paid for Crowley’s half was more than their $175-million initial offer and less than their later offer of $755 million. While the exact amount has never been disclosed, a peek at Crowley’s trust, whose records are public, shows about a half-billion dollars.
In the long view, Edelstein said she did not profit much from her contributions to building Patrón. She has since come full circle, returning to educational-world financial planning with an eye toward an eventual move back to her beloved Marina.
“I never had a burning need to write the story (or to) relive it again,” she said. “But people have nagged me.”
The final straw convincing her to lay down her story for posterity came about two and a half years ago when the Brentwood resident revisited Marina del Rey at the urging of a friend she ran into at Maxwell’s Café.
Despite the speed bumps, Edelstein looks back fondly on the wild ride she has chronicled.
“We had fun, but at no time was it easy or did it just flow,” she said. As readers of “The Patrón Way” will learn, she notes “there were serious challenges in every arena along the way. This whole thing didn’t just happened by accident or fall into our lap.”
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