Iconic Godbold feed mill in Marfa to become a sotol distillery

Salvador and Chely Baeza sell Godbold feed mill

MARFA – The signature spirit will be sotol made in Marfa as three business couples open a distillery and casual dining experience here next year.

The partners closed on the iconic Godbold Feed Mill last month and plans call for an opening to coincide with the Agave Festival next summer.

“We immediately fell in love with the history of the building and want keep its character,” said Morgan Weber. “Old feed mills make good distilleries.”

In addition to sotol, plans call to distill bourbon, gin, vodka, and limited releases of “experimental” spirits, Weber said. The menu will include Tex-Mex barbecue and tacos.

Weber and his wife Julia, who celebrated the birth of their first child recently, are the seasoned spirit-makers of the group with a distillery in Georgia and seven restaurants and bars in Houston. Under their Agricole Hospitality company, the firm operates Revival Market, a craft butcher shop and café; Coltivare, a neighborhood restaurant serving rustic Italian cuisine with a Gulf Coast perspective; Eight Row Flint, a whiskey, beer and taco joint; Night Heron, that serves cocktails, wine, and food; Indianola, an American-fare restaurant; Vinny’s, a pizzeria; and Miss Carousel, a bar.

Their Ivy Mountain Distillery is located in Mount Airy, Georgia. They’re joined by Seth and Hannah Siegel Gardner, who own a casual Houston restaurant and bar, Pass and Provisions, where Seth is also a chef. The Marfa connection is Josh and Brooke Shepard who lived in Marfa from June 2017 to August of this year and now live in Austin with their three children. They own and operate Smile-booth, which began as a photo booth company in 2008 and has transitioned into an experiential marketing platform providing visual experiences for everything from weddings to brand activations and festivals. The firm has operations in 14 cities across the United State and work allows them and the firm to travel internationally.

The Shepard’s Marfa connection is Josh’s aunt, Jacqueline Northcutt, who several years ago acquired the Old Borunda Restaurant property and reimagined the adobe complex into small shops and craft businesses.

“I’ve been coming out to Marfa to visit Jacqueline since 2000,” Shepard said. “Brooke and I met in early 2002 and took our first trip to Marfa shortly thereafter. We were married at the Gage Hotel in 2004 and our oldest daughter had made two trips to Marfa from Houston before she was 8 weeks old!”

The Shepard’s have owned a home in Marfa for more than three years. “We still maintain the residence and are back regularly,” he said.

It was a truly Marfa moment as to how the distillery came about.

“Seth and Hannah were out for a visit in February of this year, and while out on my aunt’s land, we started discussing the idea of a distillery in Marfa,” Shepard said. “Later that afternoon we called Morgan and he was in on the idea. From there, it’s been one door opening after the other. In talking about the project to people around town, it’s really interesting to hear the stories of how sotol has played a part in the memories of growing up in the area, visiting Coyame on the way to Chihuahua, and everyone we’ve met has been very excited about the project.”

Coyame, Mexico is a small town about 60 miles southwest of Presidio known for making sotol.

“It’s a plant native to the region and is gaining traction in the spirits world,” Shepard said. “For us, this project works in Marfa because of the proximity to the plants themselves and the culture in northern Mexico. We’re looking forward to another industry in Marfa, the employment opportunities it will provide the community, and the product we’ll produce.”

The Godbold feed mill and adjacent warehouse is a story unto itself. In the mid-1940s, Marfa rancher Roy Godbold acquired a feed supply store from Harper Rawlings. The warehouse is original to the site on West El Paso Street.

As the drought of the 1950s descended on the Marfa Highlands plain, Godbold acquired the abandoned mill from a mica mine south of Van Horn, dismantled it, moved it to Marfa, and set it up by the existing warehouse. The tall, sheet metal mill is a Marfa landmark, much like the Presidio County Courthouse and the Marfa water tower.

Shepard noted that the 1950s machinery for the mill was designed and manufactured by a company still in existence in Fort Worth.

Godbold later sold the mill to Friona Industries, a large, cattle feeding business in Amarillo, and Presidio rancher and feedlot owners Salvador and Graciela “Chely” Baeza acquired the business in 2001.

The mill made cattle feed for area and northern Mexico ranchers all these years until it was sold recently.

The new mill owners are now working on the project on all fronts, actively talking with area landowners to source the sotol, and partnering with the noted Houston architectural and design firm Metalab to reimagine the property as a distillery, restaurant, and spirits warehouse.

The couples have other investors as well in the Marfa project, Weber said.

“We’re excited to become a part of the community,” said Gardner.

Customers can “come to the distillery and take home something Marfa made, a native spirit,” he said, adding that the couples have been friends for years, and they look forward to working together on this project.

For the Weber’s, the Marfa project is a chance to mix business with pleasure.

“Julia and I come out here three or four times a year. We love it, it’s such a relaxing place to be compared with Houston.”