Tony MayaThe sleek bottles of a sipping liquor that spilled from the mind of a Pasco man dreaming of launching a tequila business will be ready to pour into glasses next month.
That’s when 6,000 bottles of Tony Maya’s double-distilled tequila will debut.
Some four years in the making, Tequila de Maya is poised to step out into the spotlight of success, thanks to Maya’s efforts.
The youthful looking 45-year-old is a 1996 Pasco High School grad who grew up on the east side of Pasco. He’s served on the parks and recreation boards in Pasco and Richland, and as vice president for the local Republic Party. He’s run for a city council seat, and he’s worked for Franklin County.
Currently, Maya is the vice president of operations for Martinez Trucking in Pasco, where he’s been the last five years.
But it’s his latest venture that may turn out to be his biggest journey: branding his own tequila. Tequila de Maya’s bottle has a sleek, lean look, which has gained notice in an industry that emphasizes branding. The business is steadily gaining momentum.
The state of Washington approved Maya’s liquor license to operate as his own distributor in September.
He’s working with legendary boxer Roy Jones Jr. on endorsements.
His first TV commercial comes out around Thanksgiving, with his brother, Johnny, doing the voice-over. It’ll air on Hulu and DirecTV.
Maya considered a branding offer from Paris-based Pernod Ricard Group, which carries numerous brands, including Malibu Rum, Absolut Vodka and Kahlua. But he wanted to remain true to tequila’s – and his – Mexican roots.
“They liked the bottle and the name. (But) our ancestors are Mayans,” he said. “I said no … but if it doesn’t work out, I can start over.”
It’s proving to be the right decision, as he recently finished negotiations with Caesar’s Palace to carry the brand exclusively for the next six months in Las Vegas.
After that, Maya said, he can sell it anywhere in Sin City.
Maya thought about starting a tequila business in 2019.
“Then Covid hit in early 2020,” he said. “Liquor sales were going up. I was going through a divorce. I was looking for a way to start a retirement income. I have five kids and a grandkid. This could be a chance for generational wealth.”
In addition to his full-time job at Martinez Trucking, Maya got a part-time job working for the U.S. Postal Service. He also helped his dad with mowing lawns and sprinkler blowouts.
He saved all the money from the side gigs to invest in his Tequila de Maya.
But here’s the thing – Maya didn’t know how to distill tequila.
“I didn’t have a clue,” he admitted.
But it didn’t matter. He found a way around that.
Here’s a fun fact from Forbes.com: The United States consumes more tequila than any other nation.
Because of that, there are more than 100 tequila distilleries in Mexico making tequila for more than 1,800 brands. They are contract distilleries.
They’ll make what you’re looking for – for a price, of course.
“I just started picking up the phone and cold calling – 20 places, during Covid – and no one was picking up the phone. No one was in the office,” Maya said. “I about gave up.”
Then one day, someone answered the phone at a company in Jalisco, Mexico.
“It is the same company that makes Michael Jordan’s tequila,” Maya said. That would be Cincoro Tequila.
The company official said they could work with him. Maya agreed.
“It was a good six months to get someone to respond to me,” he said. “They responded to me, so I decided I would work with them.”
Maya gets his agave plant – the key ingredient in tequila – from this company.
His family has invested $75,000 into the enterprise. His father invested $25,000 and he kicked in the rest from his income doing side gigs.
He began receiving different samples of tequilas in mason jars from his distillery partner – “I’ve got 16 to 17 bottles at home” – and he would have his large family taste-test.
“I’m not a big drinker myself. I might have a beer or two now and then. So they’d give me feedback,” Maya said.
The samples were in heavy rotation at family gatherings.
“Any reason to have a get-together – quinceaneras, weddings, birthday parties, barbecues – I’d have family try the samples and they’d give me feedback. I’d sit there and take notes. I was looking for a more premium sipping tequila that I could do with private sales.”
After about a year, Maya settled on Cristalino Anejo.
It is distilled twice, then spends at least 18 months in barrels.
Cristalino Anejo is the fastest growing tequila category in Mexico, according to Forbes.com.
Ready to launch
Maya’s first order of 6,000 bottles debuts Dec. 1, with a retail cost up to $75 a bottle.
“We hope to get it into Safeway and Albertsons,” he said.
Maya’s bottles feature “NOM 1438” on the back.
That stands for Norma Oficial Mexicana, and the number on each bottle tells where the tequila is made. That is now required on all bottles of tequila made in Mexico.
His father’s signature is on each bottle, as a way of thanking him for believing in his son.
His sister Veronica Maya is proud of him. “I have so much to say about my brother because he has worked so hard to make his own tequila and be the first on this side of the state to do so,” she said in an email to the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business.
Maya said he couldn’t have launched the project without a team of supporters.
“I would give thanks to my family and friends, especially my mother, who has motivated me to stay on the journey with faith. Also to my fiancee Amy, who has seen the good and bad side of this business and always keeping me focused with love. And to my sisters and brother for always believing in me no matter what journey I’m on. Also to kids and grandkids for always understanding how important this generational wealth can benefit them. Without their support and love, I wouldn’t be where I am at,” he said.
Maya is looking to hire branding ambassadors to help make the venture a success as this often can be more important than how the tequila tastes.
Getting the distributor license from the state opens a lot of possibilities, Maya said.
“In five years, I see myself having four options to sell. Tequila, rum, vodka, and some beers and wine,” Maya said.
All that aside, Maya is excited about what’s to come.
“This has been fun. A dream come true,” he said. “And I’m most excited in that I 100% control my business. I can take it in any direction I want to.”