The bar’s open, and some feisty women are mixing things up in the vodka industry. Based just north of Atlanta in Roswell, Carrie King and LeeAnn Maxwell launched their Vixen Vodka brand in fall 2012, kicking their way into the liquor industry’s Good Ol’ Boys Club with sharp red stilettos. Now, selling in six states and fresh off a gold medal win from American Craft Spirits Association, the Vixens poured out a round of their saucy story just for us.
Tell us how this business concept developed.
LeeAnn: It all started on a girls’ beach trip … with martinis. I mean, isn’t that how all good ideas get started? Sipping cocktails by the pool, a conversation ensued about women in the liquor industry and how we are essentially being ignored, not just in advertising but at the bar, as well. Our “AHA!” moment struck as we realized that, in general, men order by brand (“I’ll take a Ketel and tonic; I’ll take a Goose and soda”), while women order by drink (“I’ll take a cosmo; I’ll take a vodka tonic”).
Carrie: I said, “Well, we should just start our own!” And LeeAnn replied, “Who starts a vodka company? What would we even call it?” I refilled my drink and casually joked,“I don’t know … Vixen?”
LeeAnn: Business advice often urges to do what you know, and we knew vodka; it’s our drink of choice. We also knew that women like vodka, but not the burn — we call it the “vodka wince.” We wanted to find a vodka formula that lessens the burn, and create a brand that resonates with women.
How do you define a “vixen”?
LeeAnn: Webster says: “[vix·en |viksən|: (noun) a female fox or a spiteful or quarrelsome woman.”] WE, however, define a vixen as a confident, strong woman who knows what she wants, not just at the bar, but in all areas of her life.
What advice do you give other women ready to take the plunge into their own business?
LeeAnn: Never turn down an invitation … you never know who you’ll meet.
Carrie: Be smart. Act smart. Think smart. Work smart. Spend smart. Listen to your gut, and be prepared to get your hands dirty!
How do y’all work together as a team? What do you each bring to the table … or lay out on the bar?
LeeAnn: We complement each other in different areas and we don’t know how we could do this without each other. I tend to be very quick and enthusiastic, while Carrie’s more thoughtful, marinating on ideas for awhile, yet we truly listen to each other’s opinions. And we have a mantra that if we don’t agree on something, we don’t do it. Carrie has a public relations background and can handle any situation thrown at her. I’m more corporate/behind the scenes with potential investors and distributors.
Carrie: We laugh — necessary as we navigate this industry while running our own company. Things can get tense, but a good laugh can normally help shake it off and get refocused, which thankfully we are able to do … often!
If you could load up a party bus for a road trip with famous vixens, past or present, who would you invite? Where would y’all be headed?
LeeAnn: Omigosh, I love party buses and a good road trip! We’d definitely head back down to St. Simons Island, where it all started almost five years ago. I bet Oprah and Gayle would love to ride along. We’d need Sara Blakely there to make sure we’re SPANXed for nights out dancing, and the Barefoot Contessa to supply some yummy appetizers (we’ll take care of the cocktails, Ina darlin’). Idina Menzel to lead sing-alongs, and let’s add Kristin Chenoweth. Of course, the ultimate vixens should join us … Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.
Carrie: Brace yourself … this is going to be an interesting road trip. I’ll add The Golden Girls, because I’m a bit of an old soul and convinced they’d be exactly the same in real life as on the show. Get a few drinks in them, and I can only imagine the laughs. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are a must, and, to wrap it up, Miranda Lambert and Kelly Clarkson. Good laughs and great music, what more could you want!
What strength do you gain from the power of your girlfriends?
LeeAnn: That Ya-Ya Sisterhood is so very important for girlfriends of all ages. We’re gonna be the crazy ones in the old folks’ home organizing Martini Mondays! Girlfriends understand your needs — to cry, to laugh, to drink, to dish or just BE with them. Sometimes you don’t want advice; you want a shoulder.
Carrie: This subject is near and dear to my heart. I remember when we’d be with each other every day in school hallways, or neighborhoods, or at work. Life changes — marriages, kids, moves— and we struggle to see each other, but the love between us is the same. I gain such peace from their presence in my life and memories we’ve made together. They are always with me, even if not physically near.
Of course, we must ask, what’s your favorite vodka cocktail?
LeeAnn: Our signature drink, the Va Va Vixen. It’s our take on the white cosmo — Vixen Vodka, white cranberry juice and a splash of elderflower liqueur.
Carrie: Vixen on the rocks with a splash of Vixen and an orange slice. Short and sweet, like me (um, sometimes … according to my husband).
Where are some of your regular date night spots around town?
LeeAnn: Oh so many! A few favorites for me are The Mill Kitchen & Bar in Roswell (pimento cheese fritters to kill for), Alpine Bakery & Trattoria has an amazing martini menu (hint, hint) and desserts, dancing at Pastis, a lovely French restaurant in Roswell, and Antebellum in Flowery Branch is a complete hidden gem.
Carrie: Well, I am a bit of a homebody, so you can normally find me hanging with friends. A few spots I hit when I’m out are Zeal (such a great group of people; sit at the bar!), Adele’s, the Cajun spot in Roswell, and my go-to BBQ restaurant is Smokejack in Alpharetta.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Carrie: I just purchased New Rules of the Game, 10 Strategies for Women in the Workplace by Susan Packard, co-founder of HGTV, and I am eager to get started. I am about halfway through The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I love all of Jon Krakauer’s books; no matter how many times I read them, they never get old; Into Thin Air is my all-time favorite read.
Name three things you just cannot live without, other than faith, family and friends.
Carrie: My monkeys (aka my dogs), ponytail holders (my hair drives me nuts on my neck) and Milo’s Sweet Tea (if you haven’t had it, be prepared to become an addict).
Vixens, we raise a glass to your “spirited” pursuits and your shrewd approach. We’ll take it shaken or stirred! Visit vixenvodka.com for mixology and a list of local purveyors.