Du Nord was still adjusting to the then-new normal on May 25, when George Floyd was killed. Commercial-heavy Lake Street, just two blocks north of the distillery, and the surrounding area bore the brunt of the ensuing violence and destruction. Du Nord owners Chris and Shanelle Montana had moved the bulk of their inventory across the parking lot to their warehouse, thinking that would be safer, but it was their cocktail room that went untouched; the inventory was lost to fire and water damage, and bottling equipment suffered damage as well.
Wine and Whiskey Globe spoke with Chris about what’s happening in Minneapolis, where he goes from here, and what he’s doing now to help others.
Where do things stand with Du Nord?
Besides the fact that we don’t seem to have a working police force, we have groups specifically targeting businesses owned by people of color trying to cause trouble, mostly at night. We have Black Lives Matter security that drives around, but we aren’t making any attempts to be on site right now. I don’t want to risk the personal safety of my staff.
Are you currently producing any products?
We have some inventory and are able to keep up with orders. I expect both sanitizer and spirits production will get back on track soon, but we’ve really had to slow things down. Our tasting room is still standing; it’s one of the few buildings in the area that still has glass intact. With COVID safety still an issue, we don’t have a clear path to reopen yet.
Do you plan to stay where you are, or has this made you consider moving to a different location?
I’m more committed now to putting effort and investment into Du Nord than I was before, and to staying in the neighborhood. I want to be part of rebuilding the Lake Street Corridor. We will come back, and we will rebuild in an intentional way.
Tell us about the Du Nord Riot Recovery Fund.
After the rioting, GoFundMe sites—like this one—independently formed to support us. All the while, I knew we’d be submitting an insurance claim, so anything raised on top of that would just be a windfall. We don’t want to be in a position where we’re soaking up those dollars and that energy when our needs have already been met. So, we created our own fund with the stipulation that all the money has to go to under- and uninsured black and brown-owned businesses.
You set an initial fundraising goal of $30,000. As of this writing, donations have reached $472,206—and you’ve increased the target to $1 million. That’s kind of amazing.
It’s been pouring in from around the world. It’s so humbling. We got a letter from a 72-year-old white wife and mother in Waterloo, Iowa, who wanted to help, and the $5 she sent is every bit as meaningful as the hundreds and thousands other donors have contributed.
Your distillery is currently serving as a food bank/supplies distribution site. How’d that come about?
The Aldi, Target, grocery stores, and restaurants on Lake Street are gone. There’s nothing left. People were desperate for food, diapers, and supplies. I come from an organizing background, so I reached out to some of my networks and we pulled people in.
We have 400 families or more coming through every day. We’ve got the space and we can fill the need. As long as we can serve the community, that’s our job. A number of other businesses have stepped up as well, and that’s been great to see. We’ll eventually get back to making gin and whiskey, but that’s a luxury. No one needs spirits. They need to eat.
What do you hope for the future?
I hope people are more cognizant of the need to keep asking—and answering—questions. Our society has gotten to a place where the world is either black or white. If you’ve gotten to that point, you can’t see the gray that most of us live in. No one’s got all the answers, but the best solutions are somewhere in between.
We have the physical scars here in Minneapolis to remind us we need to continue these conversations. If we can help translate the experiences of people of color into the local and national conversation, it will have all been worth it. Even if my distillery burned completely to the ground, it would still be worth it to mark this turning point.