From a cold beer or shot of whiskey at the end of a hard day’s work to Paczki Day vodka, Detroit knows its booze. Yet somehow tequila has never been an iconic Motown spirit.
Don and Nayana Ferguson have set out to change that with their Anteel Tequila. It’s a tequila headquartered in metro Detroit, made in Mexico and now working its way around the country.
The story of the new Motown alcohol is full of surprises and more than one beginning.
It began with Nayana surprising Don with a birthday trip to the Dominican Republic. Nayana was in for a surprise of her own – Don’s proposal.
While on vacation in 2016 they were drinking tequila. That had become a habit for them, partially because they wanted to mature their drinking tastes and partially because of the naturally low sugar and calories. As a survivor of both breast and pancreatic cancer, that was especially important to Nayana.
While glad to be engaged, Don had some other concerns about other parts of his life and wanted to make a career change.
“I felt like a caged bird,” says Don. “I wanted that freedom.”
It was a fortuitous feeling. Everywhere they went, the duo kept seeing Antillean Mango hummingbirds flying around, specifically near the agave, the plant from which tequila is made.
When Nayana asked Don what he wanted to do when they got home, he took the universe’s hint and said, “make tequila.” It was the beginning of what became Anteel Tequila, and they used a hummingbird as the logo. According to the website, Anteel is short for Antillean.
In 2018 they introduced two brands to the Michigan market – Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila and a Reposado Tequila aged eight months in second generation Tennessee whiskey barrels. A Blanco Tequila followed in 2019.
To be called tequila, the spirits must be made in Mexico, so they were not able to produce it in Detroit. Anteel Tequila works with Mexican distillery Destiladora del Valle de Tequila.
Still the love for the city is strong because of how it helped them.
“It is a hustle city,” says Nayana.
“You have to have some grit,” says Don.
Don’s time as co-owner of Re-AL Entertainment, where he handled marketing and brand, gave him the grit needed to get Anteel Tequila sold. He had to sell it to stores person-to-person so handing out CDs on the sidewalks of Detroit was a pretty good teacher.
He went out to liquor stores across metro Detroit, talked to owners and offered tastings, selling the product one sip at a time.
Anteel Tequila is now sold in more than 400 stores and bars across Michigan and in stores across the country, including a few in California, which along with Texas and Colorado is one of the largest tequila markets in the country.
Check out this recent WXYZ-TV interview with Nayana on YouTube.
Detroit’s community spirit also played in role in moving sales along.
Nayana is a graduate of Cass Tech. When word got out she had become the first and only black woman to co-found a tequila business, things started happening.
Cass alumni have a wide-reaching network, especially on social media. Once they found out an alumna had entered the business, they passed the word, helping sales along.
“Detroit is always on my mind,” says Nayana. “I represent it in everything I do.”
She also had a large hand in choosing ingredients for the tequila and makes sure it lives up to the best standards. The healthier aspects of tequila appealed to her and she sees the business as a way to spread that knowledge.
Like any business, Anteel Tequila has had its challenges.
One was a need to change the name. The original, TEEQ (Tequila of Extraordinary and Exquisite Quality) was getting confused with a tequila appreciation group called Teeqlife Don started. Teeqlife is a social media platform with a YouTube Channel, that educates consumers about spirits brands from around the world.
On April 14, 2020, the new name, Anteeel Tequila, was born and that little hummingbird proved to be a good luck charm. As Don rushed to get the word out on social media, he learned his customers didn’t even notice. They just looked for the hummingbird.
“To our confirmation that it was the right move to make, we saw a hummingbird right after putting the name change out to the world,” says the website. “It was a sign, just like the one we received in the Dominican Republic. Pay attention to those signs. Create Your Legacy. #findthebird.”
Like so many small businesses, Don and Nayana were hit by the COVID pandemic. Tastings were cancelled and 65-70 cases, with 25 bottles to the case, were no longer earmarked for specific usage.
Without personal tastings, the lifeblood of the business, things initially looked a little bleak.
Maybe because that little hummingbird really was lucky, or maybe it was just picking the right business, they did better than they ever had during the lockdown.
People were at home scrolling through social media and often enjoying spirits to drive off cabin fever. It was a match made in heaven.
Anteel Tequila seems to have found a groove in the city and Don an Nayana thank Detroit for that.
“It’s cool that people are looking at Detroit (for tequila),” says Nayana.
To find out more about Anteel Tequila and the locations where the brand is stocked, please click here.