With Spirit and Determination, Sheela Marshall Built a Brand Tequila Sheela

Sheela Marshall’s Determined Journey: Crafting the Tequila Sheela Brand

By Ryan Slattery 

Tequila owners don’t look like Sheela Marshall. It’s an industry dominated by men, and further sprinkled with cash from celebrity investors with famous surnames: Clooney, Jonas, Hart and Wahlberg. Women are hard to find.

For a small in stature, middle-aged Indian woman to research, learn and become the mastermind behind a top-shelf sipping tequila that rivals the best in the business, is quite the success story. You can credit her determination to her fearless “social butterfly” effect. 

“It was a tough journey,” Marshall admits. “I was very passionate, very determined. I didn’t give up.”  

That journey began decades ago back in Boston, when as a graduate student, she went to a bar with a bunch of friends. She was introduced to tequila when some of the guys began shooting the spirit, chasing it with salt and lime, then cringing and making faces as it went down. Confused, Marshall asked her friends, “‘Why do you suffer so much to drink tequila?’ They said, ‘Sheela, you have to drink tequila that way.’ I said I’m going to change this, and sure enough I did.”

It wasn’t immediate. She first started a family, but following her divorce she moved to Texas with her two children and took a job as an accountant. It was there in Dallas where she met Natalie Merrick, a co-worker who would later help make her tequila dreams come true.

It was on a trip to India to visit her mother that sparked her desire again. There, Marshall paid $35 for a shot of tequila at a hotel, but wasn’t impressed.

“It was like kerosene,” she recalls. 

That night, Marshall hopped on the computer, did some research and discovered that there was high demand for spirits in India, but that tequila was under represented. She decided to do something about that. This time she followed through. 

With some seed money from Merrick, Marshall began making a series of trips to Jalisco, Mexico. She visited 11 distilleries before striking a deal to create a small-batch tequila she named Tequila Sheela.

Her 100-percent blue agave tequila originates in the Jalisco highlands of Amatitán–an area known for growing high-quality blue agave, which when processed produces some of the smoothest and most premium tequila in the world. Tequila Sheela doesn’t use any pesticides or chemicals, and it is certified organic. 

Marshall brought the brand to market in India in 2012, then Texas and later South Florida, picking up gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition along the way. She produces an earthy, un-aged Blanco, a smooth Reposado that’s aged for up a year in American whiskey barrels, and a matured Añejo, aged for two years.

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“All the flavor and color that you get is all by aging,” the 64-year-old entrepreneur says. “My tequila is neat. It’s a sipping tequila. You can feel it and taste it. People who taste my tequila always say how smooth it is.”

Word of Tequila Sheela spread through Marshall’s marketing prowess. She was once the official tequila of both the Texas Rangers and Texas Live!–a huge entertainment district between the professional baseball and football stadiums in Arlington. Marshall has since lost those sponsorships but says it was one of her best investments and “a highlight of my success story.” She now partners with the PGA Tour and is eyeing expansion and planning to distribute soon in both California and Nevada. 

“I have an excellent product and I want to share it,” she says. “I am living the American dream.”