Patrón Saint

by Meridith May / photos by Tom Zasadzinski

We meet at DeJoria’s office on the 12th floor of John Paul Mitchell Systems’ Beverly Hills headquarters. Beautiful women, obviously well-coiffed, pepper the chic lobby and offices. I’m thankful my own tresses are in good shape—partially because I had equipped my own hairdresser with the company’s new Wild Ginger Awapuhi shampoo and conditioner for that morning’s blow-out.
DeJoria’s corner window office looks out to the Hollywood Hills and framed images that span almost three decades showcase the entrepreneur with everyone from Bill Clinton to Mohammed Ali.

Agave leads to agape: John Paul DeJoria is Chairman of Patrón Spirits Company and co-founder of hair care company John Paul Mitchell Systems.

But DeJoria’s most prized possession, he points out, is the Horatio Alger award he received in 2004. “It’s the only award given in the Supreme Court,” DeJoria comments. He picks it up and smiles. “It is an honor bestowed on Americans who went through adversity and achieved fame and success, but who then circle back to help the planet along the way.”

The award, handed to him by Justice Clarence Thomas, was a nod to DeJoria’s humble beginnings. He is a first-generation American (his father was from Italy and his mother from Greece) who, voted Least Likely to Succeed at his Los Angeles high school, became a successful entrepreneur and, ultimately, a philanthropist. 

Philanthropy First
Before we even get to the subject of Patrón, DeJoria wants to tell me about his pet project, Grow Appalachia. “It’s all about what I believe: Success that is not shared is failure.”

The Appalachian Community Gardening and Food Security Project teaches families in West Virginia coal mining communities to grow their own food. Through Berea College in Kentucky, more than 100 families are living better, thanks to nutritional education and the ability to harvest from their own gardens. “There’s a limited availability of high-quality fresh produce in this region,” says DeJoria. “Through generations, and because of rampant unemployment, a loss of knowledge of gardening, cooking and food preservation skills have occurred. Obesity and poor health is what we’re fighting.”
Although DeJoria’s sponsorship continues to purchase the raw materials, from seed to fertilizer, and pays the way for everything from irrigation for the gardens to the key to it all—education, the philanthropist can state proudly: “In 2011, 2,700 people will be eating off these 100 gardens.”

Food4Africa, which feeds thousands of orphaned children vitamin-enriched meals every day, is another heartfelt project to which DeJoria has become attached. He has also sponsored a home for girls in Thailand to rescue them from lives of prostitution. And in Mexico, he created an orphanage and a home for elderly families. The list goes on, from Sea Shepherd, an organization that defends ocean life worldwide, to the St. Bernard Project, an organization that rebuilds homes and lives for Katrina survivors.

Success, Energy and Drive

Although DeJoria is in his Beverly Hills office only about once a month, that doesn’t mean his finger is not firmly on the pulse of both his businesses. His new Paul Mitchell Hair Care Systems Wild Ginger Awapuhi is already a cult favorite with consumers and hairdressers. The proprietary blend of triplex keratin “rebuilds hair up to 80 percent with the first use, and retains hair color and prevents fading by 65 percent, with 30 percent more shine,” explains the entrepreneur, who is as savvy about hair care as about tequila. (As a user myself, I can offer a testimonial to the product’s effectiveness.)

Making appearances at events, appearing on television with Larry King, representing Patrón at Sundance and participating in celebrity sports events is part of his life. But his daughter Alexis also plays a connected role. At the wheel of her top alcohol Funny Car, she has passion and drive, too. Sponsored by Patrón Racing (a team that also includes Le Mans cars), the raven-haired beauty is qualified to run: She ranks among the top ten in the world in her class.

DeJoria is generous with his time for this interview, but he warns me that he has to shoot a new commercial for Patrón. “What’s the message?” I ask.  “Patrón’s recipe is the same as it was from the beginning. And our other message is that we give back.”

DeJoria is alarmed that some people may think that with its phenomenal success, Patrón’s recipe and distillation process have strayed from their artisanal beginnings. “We make it the same way, in small batches,” he assures us. “Let’s call it the old-fashioned way.”

But, in another way, Patrón does go beyond the norm: The special distillation process takes the waste from production through reverse osmosis so as not to pollute the land. “It’s expensive, but we’re in a position where we can do this . . . with honor.”   

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