We at Soldadera Coffee make it our mission to uplift women entrepreneurs, and as a minority- and woman-owned coffee company, we are proud to partner with another local beverage brand, ZINI Vodka, for the Grand Rapids International Wine Beer and Food Festival this weekend at DeVos Place.
ZINI Vodka was founded by Kavy Lenon as a way to express her culture through craft cocktails. Infused with lychee and other exotic fruits from Kavy’s home country of Laos, ZINI brings a unique flavor to a currently male-dominated industry. Through her entrepreneurship and community work, she encourages women of all backgrounds to become ZINI (Zealous, Intelligent, Natural and Independent).
ZINI Vodka will have a booth this weekend at the Grand Rapids International Wine Beer and Food Festival. On Thursday, Nov. 16, Kavy will debut the new ZINI Love Potion: a cocktail infused with Soldadera’s Jamaica hibiscus tea and coffee blend and ZINI’s lychee-flavored vodka.
Ahead of this exciting partnership, we sat down with Kavy to learn more about her passions and how she navigates the beverage industry to empower more women and minority entrepreneurs.
Soldadera: You say on your website you wanted to use ZINI to break into a male dominated industry. Why did you choose vodka specifically?
Kavy: I am a huge fan of the lychee martini, and lychee martinis are vodka based, so it’s a good entry point into this industry.
I also wanted to connect back to my heritage, and that’s the thing that resonated for me with Soldadera Coffee. They’re bringing a cultural flavor from their ancestry and bringing it to market, and I wanted to highlight exotic fruits from Southeast Asia to bring that to market.
Lychee martinis are very popular in a lot of the bigger cities and well-known restaurants that have Japanese or Chinese cuisine. Even Vietnamese restaurants will have a lychee martini on their menu.
S: Outside of ZINI you’re a supplier and diversity manager at Meijer. What other work do you do to promote minority and women owned businesses?
K: Not only do I have the opportunity to serve at Meijer to be leading this work, but I do it out of passion. I do a lot of work outside of my 8-5 world. I serve on the Veteran Owned Business Roundtable. I serve on the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation. I serve on the state level as well. I’m a commissioner for the state of Michigan.
My passion that fills my soul is to support diverse and locally owned businesses, because I see the difficulty in it. It’s difficult to go to market or understand the business side of trying to create a brand, or to innovate or create product that the consumer base has an affinity for. Going through it myself and also being a leader in the community really lines up with who I am as an individual, as an entrepreneur and someone who is just passionate about making a difference.
S: What attracted you to partner with Soldadera Coffee?
K: I think their hibiscus tea pairs really nicely with ZINI, and I think people need to see that collaborating with other brands is so important, and I love being able to share our stories with customers at the Beer Wine and Food Festival. There’s such a diverse group now that comes through the show. People are always looking for something different, something that they might not have had before, and I think the ZINI hibiscus-flavored cocktail is going to be amazing. It’s going to create some curiosity and excitement around it.
S: Soldadera Coffee and ZINI both have a message of inspiring women. What other ways do you use the ZINI brand and business to empower women?
K: Last year I had the opportunity to sponsor a couple of different women-owned businesses just to incubate their idea and help with registration, legal fees and getting packaging done. All of this costs money. As a startup myself, I couldn’t give a whole lot, but I was able to donate my time and some of the profits I made last year. Just a little seed money could go a long way.
Reynas Michelata Mix is in 10 Meijer stores now. She actually was with me last year when we debuted ZINI at the food and wine show, and it inspired her to create her own product. She’s going to debut at the festival this year.
The other brand is Dezana, and they are bringing in jasmine rice from overseas as part of a B Corp initiative to support 70 farmers in Laos and to create jobs for more of a global impact.
S: What can ZINI fans look forward to in the future?
K: I’m coming up with two additional flavors: passion fruit from Thailand and also dragon fruit. I will be in a reality TV show next year called the BLOX. It’s an entrepreneurship startup. It’s kind of intersecting between Shark Tank and the Apprentice. I will be one of 85 in Season 9, and I will be going down to Oklahoma in February, and I think the season will launch in July or August.
I’m super excited about that because that’s going to be a fun challenge, and I’m actually taking some of the folks that I’m coaching and working with right now and creating a jacket with all of their logos that I will wear on the show, so they will be there with me.
Be sure to try our ZINI Love Potion this weekend at the Beer Wine and Food Festival, and let us know what you think on social @soldaderacoffee.