Gains in Black-owned real estate seen in Lake Street rehab
A lot has happened in the last three years for Chris Montana, the owner of Du Nord Social Spirits, the first Black-owned distillery in the nation.
In 2020 he faced his distillery’s destruction in South Minneapolis during the uprising following the police murder of George Floyd. He responded by starting the Du Nord Foundation as a way to give back to the community impacted by the uprising.
Since the MSR spoke with Montana in 2021, the foundation has partnered with Delta Air Lines to start a BIPOC wealth incubator and accelerator, an initiative to help current small businesses, and prospective business owners, have access to capital and guidance.
Delta Air Lines also started serving Du Nord’s Foundation Vodka on its flights, and the distillery recently made USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice list for Best Craft Gin Distillery.
Recalling the origin of the foundation and initiative, Montana noted, “Maybe less than a week after George Floyd was murdered, we were sitting down and thinking of what were the things we wanted to use our business to do.
“And, you know,” Montana continued, “the first was addressing food deserts. That was our emergency relief operation that we ran out of what used to be part of our distillery that was damaged.”
During the social unrest in 2020, many community members did not have access to food as many establishments were closed due to the protests and pandemic. Montana and the team utilized the part of their distillery that was damaged due to the protests as a solution for the food crisis.
The next phase of their vision helped local businesses stay afloat. “The second part was some grants we’ve given—$15,000 to 73 different businesses to help them stay open,” Montana said. In the current phase for Du Nord, the foundation is working to increase the number of small business owners. The BIPOC wealth incubator and accelerator has partnered with Delta Air Lines to achieve its goals.
Asked how Delta Air Lines came on board, Montana described a synergy that was initiated by the airline company. “Really, because Delta Air Lines did the work, I’d love to say it was because of my business acumen or something else, but the true answer is Delta reached out to us to see if it was a possibility.
“And we didn’t think it was because, at the time, we simply were not ready. Even if we hadn’t been damaged in 2020, we wouldn’t have been ready.
“But you know, at that time, making spirits was pretty far from our mind, but they were persistent. They were willing to work with us. You know, in many ways Delta, as a large company, did what we, as a small company, had been trying to do for years, which is hire people who don’t necessarily have the skills that we need, but we know that we can build them, and that’s the way that we can diversify the industry.
“Well, Delta did the same thing with us. We didn’t have the production, capacity or distribution that they needed. But they were willing to work with us and be patient. That took a year and a half, but eventually we got it done and got it on board.”
Montana discussed the inception of the foundation and why it was crucial for the organization to take its time to set up the foundation right. “First, we didn’t know we were going to have a foundation. We had no money.
“ We started a GoFundMe to raise some money [after the protests started and the building was partially damaged]. We initially set it at $30,000, hitting it in hours. Then we kept moving and up and up and up and up, and by the end of it all we had raised about a million dollars.”
Montana continued, “So we formed the foundation so that way, instead of the money going to me and a third of it being taxed, it could go to the foundation. Then we could use 100% of the funds for their intended purpose, which was to help out the community through a tough time.”
Having the Du Nord Foundation has enabled the Du Nord company to properly and transparently channel the funds raised during the uprising into the community.
“I will say I’m very excited about a number of developments in the Twin Cities, and I think the community has been waiting to see what happens to the Lake Street corridor and to some of those buildings and whether it goes to business as usual or if it goes to some different model.”
He added, “We’re participating in two projects that are a different model, one at the Coliseum and one at one of the buildings, formerly Seven Sigma, both of which were impacted during the unrest.
“Both of which are going to come back as Black-owned real estate—something we don’t see in the commercial space—that will be working to employ people from the community and give them platforms to chase their dreams. And so, I’m very excited about both of those projects and hope people will tune in and track them as they develop.”
Angela Rose Myers is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.