Tile flooring

Leslie Swedish, Moxxi Coffee supports ambitious women one cup at a time

Swedish of Stillwater, a self-proclaimed “Jill of All Trades”, has worked as everything from airbrush to realtor. But she didn’t go into 2020 thinking she’d be launching a business and a nonprofit simultaneously.

Swedish was a hairstylist on maternity leave with her third child, her first with husband Scott Swedish. Then the pandemic hit. She was unemployed and had to do what she had always done: shift gears.

Enter Moxxi Coffee Company and the Moxxi Women’s Foundation, which provides educational resources and grants to women artisans, professionals, workers and athletes in the Capital Region.

Scott Swedish, owner of Saratoga Coffee Traders, had previously suggested she start a coffee business to jump on the light roasting trend and, more importantly, add to the small group of women-owned coffee businesses. Quarantine has given her time to think about the idea, think about the brand with her husband, and figure out a way to caffeine for a cause by donating a portion of coffee sales in a direction where it would good.

The Moxxi Women’s Foundation offers a weekly “Lift as We Rise” networking and support group; workshops on topics such as wellness, financial literacy and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace; and offers quarterly micro-grants. It has 20 subscribed members who have access to personalized coaching, but the Swede said many women who are not members can still attend Moxxi events.

She is careful not to use “business” or “entrepreneur” too much in the context of the foundation, as she wants to support a range of women, from small business owners to Olympic hopefuls like the micro-grant recipient. 2021 Melissa Myers, who is training for the Paris 2024 Games at Olympic silver medalist Jason Morris’ judo center in Glenville.

“She’s been doing (judo) since she was 4 – it’s ambitious,” Swedish said. “But it’s not a business, and it’s not necessarily a career, but it’s a goal that she pursues.”

Myers works at Saratoga Coffee Traders, where she first encountered Swede and learned about the Moxxi Women’s Foundation micro-grants. The grant money paid for one of Myers’ judo tournaments, which she usually pays for out of pocket.

“Every little bit helps me,” Myers said. “She was really good at promoting my name, so now more and more people know about judo, especially women in judo and women in combat sports.”

Both Moxxi businesses are headquartered in a gray detached garage on her family’s Stillwater property that would become her home living room. It is now the coffee distribution center and office of the foundation, decorated with black and white tiles; pin-up portraits of WWII ladies and 1950s housewives; and 1950s-inspired cherry-red appliances. Here, the Swede handles the controls; packs beans, grounds, cups and Keurig mugs for cafes and stores selling Moxxi, like Saratoga Coffee Traders, its biggest buyer; plans the programming of the foundation; and manages day-to-day office work.

For most of her 20s and 30s, the Swede stopped working fulfilling jobs to ensure she could provide for her two oldest children. It was frustrating for Swede to give up the job she loved just to survive as a single mother, and she saw an opportunity through this coffee business to provide the resources and support she needed to era of ambitious women.

“I’m going to take a dollar for every item sold, and I’m going to give grants to these women so maybe they don’t have to make the same kind of decisions I did,” she said.

When a male mentor from SCORE, a business consulting service affiliated with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, told Swedish his idea was too big and she should quit, she bought “Nonprofit Kit for Dummies ‘ and figured it out for herself.

Now in its second year, Swedish is learning to use Moxxi – in both iterations without exhausting herself like she did the first year. She reduced foundation classes to once a month. She has a full board, pending a bid, which includes her husband as vice president and 16-year-old daughter Olivia Finkle and 21-year-old son Joshua Jaquish as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

“I walk a fine line within the coffee foundation and business pushing a platform of ambitious women, but also keeping in mind that ambition is not what we have maybe thought of in the past,” Swedish said. “It’s not the daily grind, wearing yourself out to exhaustion… Being ambitious is about achieving something in any way that is meaningful to you.”

Prioritizing work-life balance hasn’t made the Swede any less ambitious, however. She plans to expand the foundation into the Catskills where she grew up. A new membership program to help women who cannot afford the $10 monthly fee is being developed to keep the resources inclusive and accessible. The coffee company recently launched a line of botanical flavors, which experiments with infusing traditional beans with herbal blends more likely associated with teas.

“It’s all baby steps,” Swedish said. “I’m a long way from where I was a year ago. I still haven’t been able to get into what I first envisioned, but we’re getting there. And it’s really amazing.