Angela Nielsen never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. As a child, she didn’t run a lemonade stand or sell candy to her classmates. Even after college, as with many new graduates, her career path remained uncertain.
“I still didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she recalls. After moving to Phoenix in 1988, Nielsen started working at The Arizona Republic. “I found myself enjoying advertising. Then I got recruited by the Tribune newspaper group and continued to get promotions and excel with major accounts.”
Nielsen’s work demanded her to travel three to four days a week, a lifestyle she no longer wanted to sustain once she had her daughter. Using her skills and connections gained working in advertising, Nielsen founded Mail America, a print marketing company.
The success of Mail America allowed Nielsen to pursue another business opportunity. “When I started in advertising, I thought it would be exciting to own my own high-end magazine. I came across the award-winning magazine Sources + Design, an architecture and design trade publication,” she says. “I founded Nielsen Publishing and bought the publication. I kept the entire staff, added a few salespeople and was able to really grow the magazine. I only held onto the magazine for a year, though, because my other business was doing extremely well, and I just didn’t have time to manage both.”
A new opportunity
Sadly, the Great Recession took its toll on Mail America. To support herself, Nielsen looked for new opportunities and ended up in a business deal gone bad. As part of her settlement, she received the recipe for what would eventually become Roxx vodka.
“I was left with a recipe and no idea what the spirits world involved,” Nielsen remarks. “But it was fascinating to me, so I started to do some research and found that it was all about marketing and branding.”
With recipe in hand, Nielsen needed to find a distillery to produce her product. She interviewed several in the U.S., as well as some in Russia and Poland.
“Poland just did it for me because the four grains used in the recipe — barley, wheat, rye and triticale — are grown in a farming region that is pesticide-free, which is huge. All grains grown in the U.S. are sprayed with pesticides, unless they are certified organic,” she notes. “Most vodkas just use one or two grains. Using more results in a complexity of flavor. When you drink Roxx, you will taste hints of citrus and pepper, as well as pastries and bread. And then there’s a really nice, smooth finish because of the triticale.”
In 2015, Nielsen launched Roxx vodka in Phoenix with a business partner. About two months after expanding into California, her partner was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and had to step back from the business. Nielsen decided to double down on the Phoenix market and hired a brand ambassador.
“We did extremely well our first year,” she says. The tipple won silver at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and received 92-point rating from tastings.com. “We also got the attention of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits — the largest alcohol distributor in the world. They wanted to meet with me and immediately picked up the brand.”
As soon as it was publicized that the premier distributor was going to sell Roxx, Exxon Mobile filed a lawsuit claiming that the vodka’s logo, which originally featured two interlocking X’s, violated Exxon’s trademark. After nearly four years of litigation, the matter was resolved, and Nielsen was back in business.
“We re-launched five months prior to the pandemic, not having any idea what was about to happen. Bars and restaurants all shut down, and there was just no way to keep Roxx going,” she recalls. “But last August, the people who would become my new business partners tried Roxx for the first time. They wanted to see if they could help the brand, and I was pretty much dead in the water at that point. We began speaking and on April 1, we became partners.”
Since then, the brand has expanded in the Valley. Roxx vodka can be found in restaurants like Nobu, Ocean 44, Steak 44 and Dominick’s Steakhouse. Bottles will soon be on the shelves of AJ’s Fine Foods and Basha’s.
Nielsen concludes, “This has been a 10-year journey for me. It’s a labor of love, and I’m very diligent about it being successful, because everyone who tries Roxx vodka absolutely loves it.”