What’s the connection between Tequila Sheela and the real estate business? Every real estate agent has a bit of an entrepreneur in them. By its nature, real estate sales work requires initiative, nimble problem-solving, and often innovative thinking to get deals done. Realtor Sheela Marshall has taken her entrepreneurial inclination even further, developing a fun and inspiring side business importing and marketing organic, small-batch tequila, all the while maintaining her real estate agent role.
With her friend and business partner, Natalie Merrick, Marshall is importing a trio of namesake spirits from Jalisco, Mexico. Marshall has turned a side interest into gold in the last few years, bringing artisanal organic 100-percent blue agave tequila first to India and then Texas, picking up medals at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition along the way.
Marshall immigrated from India to the U.S. 37 years ago, landing first in Boston. Marshall married there, had two daughters, and divorced. She moved to Dallas with her two girls in 1995 and took a job in accounting, where she met Natalie Merrick, a co-worker who became her best friend.
A few years later, on a trip to India to visit family, Marshall noted that, though there was a strong demand for spirits like scotch and gin, tequila wasn’t well represented in India, to say the least.
“I paid $35 for a shot of tequila there that was just awful,” she said. She returned to Dallas and shared her idea of importing quality tequila to the Indian market with Merrick. Her friend responded enthusiastically, offering investment in the project. After research, the two women ended up deciding that given that neither of them spoke Spanish, it would be too difficult to get such a project off the ground.
Marshall transitioned into real estate, getting her license and signing on with Century 21 – Judge Fite. In helping buyers find homes in Plano, Allen, Frisco, and Dallas, she found a calling, but her entrepreneurial dream of tequila marketing did not entirely die.
She was not, however, interested in remarrying. Marshall remembers her exact response when her daughter, Kayla, who is now 23, suggested introducing her to a high school friend’s single dad. “I told her, ‘I have a house. I have a bank account. I have a nice car. I have two girls. I don’t need a man,’ ” Marshall said, laughing. That was until a meeting with Brooke Marshall came about. It went quite well. The two married. It just so happens that Brooke is fluent in Spanish and was very supportive when she told him of her tequila dream. On a trip to Mexico, they scouted tequila-making in Jalisco, the area where the finest agave is grown and distilled into premium, sipping-quality hooch.
Merrick joined the Marshalls on their next trip to Mexico. Deals were struck with a master tequila distiller to produce a trio of small-batch organic tequilas made from 100 percent blue agave originating in the highlands of Jalisco. Marshall and Merrick introduced their product line, Tequila Sheela, into the market in India in 2012.
In January 2016, Tequila Sheela’s three entries (a blanco, a reposado aged in oak barrels for one year, and an añejo aged for two) racked up a double gold and two silver medals in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Last July, Tequila Sheela launched in Dallas. A major order from a large-scale retailer in December brought the line, which retails between $32 and $45 a bottle, to the area in full force.
Marshall continues to work as a Realtor, though. “I intend to stay in real estate as long as I am able,” she said, smiling. “I put myself in (the client’s) shoes. If it’s a property priced at $50,000 or $5 million, they get the same service. Seeing their faces at closing is worth it. I’ve never missed a closing,” Sheela added.
These days, a closing might include a toast with a premium, organic tequila bearing her name.