Described as a “deeply personal business narrative,” the story centers around the development from the ground up of Patrón tequila, a “brand that single-handedly changed the face of the liquor industry,” by its co-founder, Martin Crowley, and as told by his then young and lively life partner, Ilana Edelstein.
Tequila is by far my spirit of choice. I’ve loved it for decades, and I still love learning by tasting more tequilas and by researching its fascinating history. That’s why when the offer to preview Ilana Edelstein’s new book, The Patron Way, came across my desk, I jumped at the opportunity.
I wasn’t fooled by the above description, however. In fact, I’m not even a fan of Patron Tequila.
Drinking it is an unsettling experience for me, though I do understand the big batch Patron Tequila available today is a different product than the one the partners Martin Crowley and Jon Paul DeJoria fell in love with years ago. I simply wanted to learn about the early days of one of the biggest brands ever.
A Lifestyle Business
Yes, business is a key player in this story. At a time when the term “Lifestyle Business” had yet to be coined, Patron was just that. Ilana Edelstein and Martin Crowley, along with J.P. and Eloise DeJoria, lived that lifestyle and created the Patron brand around it.
The DeJorias had money and plenty of Hollywood connections. Martin Crowley had hustle and Ilana had an instinctive, albeit racy, style. The combination was magic.
Great juice, sexy presentation of the distinctive bottle with the green ribbon, and even sexier presenters in a time when using gorgeous women to promote liquor was a novel idea.
Today, products and celebrities are branded intentionally and strategically. By contrast, the Patron brand grew organically through the millionaire lifestyle lived by J.P. and his gorgeous wife, Eloise, and guided by the hustle and determination of the rough-around-the edges Martin Crowley and his bombshell lover, Ilana Edelstein, who softened his brash approach to business.
Having a background in branding and marketing, I understood all that. I’m a novelist with a degree in business who pays her rent with marketing work.
It made perfect sense – top end lifestyle and top shelf tequila. But, what captivated me was the love story.
The Patron Way is the tragic story of a thirteen-year love affair between Martin Crowley and Ilana Edelstein that ended when ego, greed, and lawyers got in the way.
Ilana was making a great living as a financial advisor to school teachers. When Martin asked her to give it all up and work with him full-time on Patron, she didn’t hesitate to accept. He didn’t offer her shares, a paycheck or a wedding ring, only the opportunity to continue their love affair living the glamorous lifestyle they both enjoyed.
She was madly in love with him and, by all accounts, he with her. What more could two lovers want than a business they could build together? Why wouldn’t she accept?
It all went well for a loving couple that seemed to complement each other perfectly. A beautiful home, parties, A-list social circles, yachts and island vacations. Until Patron became so in-demand that it caught the attention of Big Liquor.
The book blurb describes it as an “astonishingly competitive and sometimes cutthroat industry.” Cutthroat it was.
Lawyers swooped in and worked on Martin’s insecurities. His health was failing due to advanced heart disease and he and Ilana weren’t married. It doesn’t take a genius to see how lawyers could play that to their advantage.
What if she broke up with him and filed a palimony lawsuit? If he’d known the history of Marvin vs. Marvin, Martin Crowley wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but lawyers can make persuasive arguments.
What if she tried to take half of his half of the company? What if she sued for unpaid wages? Did she have a contract? Did they have an agreement?
Martin follows the questionable advice of lawyers, enacted by an even more questionable court system. This is where the glitter fades and the story turns ugly.
He breaks up with the woman he loves, the woman he can’t bear to sleep without at night. Hearts break. There is a long drawn out trial, her reputation is smeared and yet, he continues to watch her, to stalk her, to love her, and she still loves him.
He moves to a house on Antigua and shelters his money. A new will is drawn up. Though he assures her she’ll be fine, he promises her nothing.
At the end of the story, Ilana is rebuilding her life. All those years of love for Martin and Patron earned her nothing in the way of financial security. Though she is still loyal to the Patron brand and loves Martin dearly, she realizes she must press on. Martin’s story doesn’t end as well.
His financial future is secure with Patron, but when he has a heart attack at the top of the stairs in his beautiful home in Antigua, the lawyers that he depended upon to protect his interests were nowhere to be found. He died alone, at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by his wealth. His body was found the next day by his staff.
My heart ached for Ilana, for her hard work, love and devotion, for what she’d gone through with the breakup and then what she must have felt when she learned how the love of her life had died.
Though I may never be a fan of Patron Tequila, I can honestly say The Patron Way by Ilana Edelstein was a delicious cocktail of innovation and inspiration with a twist of tragedy for a bittersweet finish.