How a Black-Owned Distillery in Minneapolis Is Leading the City's Revival
Du Nord, blocks from the burned police precinct, has raised $350K for rebuilding
The last time I drank at Du Nord Craft Spirits, a Black-owned distillery in Minneapolis, it was a low-key night. An amiable, mustachioed bartender whipped up cocktails with their Mixed Blood whiskey, Fitzgerald gin and other in-house liquors for a group of us who filed in just before last call, but he took it in stride, and after the pushing together and separating of tables, and polishing of tipples, we walked out into the quiet, empty streets.
On the afternoon of June 4, Du Nord couldn’t have been more different. It was abnormally busy, with cars packing the thoroughfare abutting the cocktail room and warehouse; abnormally hot, with temperatures ten degrees above normal in the city; and abnormally eerie, with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct, the building that was burned by rioters in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police, less than half a mile away.
Being close to the destruction that has ripped through the Twin Cities, so close that Du Nord’s own facilities were substantially damaged, one would think owner Chris Montana would be focused on himself and getting his business back to normal. But instead, Montana and his staff have turned the distillery into one of the city’s most unlikely hubs of community revival.
“We are dedicated to rebuilding Minneapolis in a way that ensures our cultural beacons are restored,” Montana wrote in a note on the distillery’s GoFundMe crowdfunding page. On Friday morning, after only five days of raising funds, Du Nord has collected over $350,000 for rebuilding businesses in the city. During that time, he’s consistently increased the funding goal. It currently sits at $1 million and the donations show no signs of slowing.
The traffic around Du Nord was a sign of their other major effort helping to rebuild the community. A week ago, when peaceful protests boiled over, rioters broke into the distillery’s warehouse, stealing inventory and setting fires, as Montana described in a video from KSTP TV. Now that the distilling work is on hold, Montana, his team and an army of volunteers have turned the warehouse into a donation center which has so far fed hundreds, if not thousands, of families who have been affected both by the recent destruction and COVID-19.
As the Star Tribune reported, Du Nord was originally an overflow center for another effort, but “after Montana noticed some residents had begun to start a donation campaign in a nearby parking lot, he decided the cleaned-out warehouse could become the site of its own donation drive.”
The donations include everything from food to individually wrapped toothbrushes to body wash, and the distillery has been updating what it needs on its Facebook page daily. Around the premises, there are signs in multiple languages about where cars can drop off supplies and where they can pick them up.
When I spoke with Dan Moriarty, a manager at Du Nord, he said that some community members who first came to them to accept donations have then turned around and come back to volunteer. The outpouring of support within the South Minneapolis area has been so great that a nearby church had to divert volunteers to Du Nord, and the distillery itself has found itself with too many helping hands. A volunteer directing traffic said the logistics of the booming operation have been difficult, but that they’re “getting better every day.”
However, this isn’t the first time in 2020 that Montana has shifted his business model. As the coronavirus outbreak came to Minnesota, Du Nord teamed up with two other local spirits-slingers — Tattersall Distilling and Brother Justus — to form All Hands MN, a coalition that worked together to produce hand sanitizer. As City Pages reported, after supplying organizations in dire need, like nursing homes and hospitals, the group started selling to consumers and donating proceeds to local food bank Second Harvest Heartland.
In other words, while Du Nord’s efforts during the current upheaval are extraordinary, they are in some ways simply continuing a philanthropic and humanitarian effort they set into motion back in March.
And just in case it’s unclear where Chris and his wife Shanelle stand on the demonstrations in their city, here’s what they wrote on Facebook a few days after George Floyd’s murder: “Shanelle and I can only turn the distillery’s fate over to South Minneapolis, our community. I hope to see Du Nord standing tomorrow, but, no matter what happens, we will continue to support the peaceful protests our city needs to progress towards a more just and equitable future for all of our kids.”
Today, Du Nord still stands, which cannot be said of many other businesses in the neighborhood. And while the community won’t be able to gather in their cocktail room anytime soon, the distillery has already brought Minnesotans and donors around the country together in such a way that, when they finally get back to the business of Old Fashioneds and Fitz & Tonics, they’ll really have something to drink to.