After Shutting Down During the Pandemic, Surviving a Fire During the George Floyd Protests, the First Black-Owned Distillery Partners with Delta Air Lines

Du Nord founder and CEO Chris Montana, photo from website

Du Nord Craft Spirits, the first Black-owned distillery in the nation, was struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Now the award-winning distillery based in Minneapolis has partnered with a national airline.

Du Nord Craft has teamed up with Delta Air Lines to serve its Foundation Vodka on flights. The airline began offering Du Nord’s vodka on all domestic flights on Oct. 1. By 2022, other products from Du Nord also will be provided on Delta flights as part of the brand’s revamped food and beverage menu.

“When Delta first started talking to us about this, it was nowhere near possible for us to do any of the things they were talking about,” Du Nord founder and CEO Chris Montana said. “We had to envision a future where we were back on our feet, then be able to do what they needed.”

Du Nord’s product line includes Fitzgerald Gin, L’Etoile Vodka, Mixed Blood Blended Whiskey, Café Freida Coffee Liqueur and an Apple Du Nord Liqueur.

“We call this a partnership because they’re making it possible for one of the smallest companies in the country to work with one of the largest,” said Montana.

Du Nord’s deal with Delta reflects its mission and commitment to adding diversity to the craft alcohol industry.

There are at least 10 Black-owned distilleries throughout the U.S. This is a drop in the bucket as an estimated 21,745 businesses in the U.S. produce craft beverages. It is a booming industry. According to the Congressional Research Service, sales of craft beverages are reaching an estimated $32 billion annually. In addition, sales from businesses specializing in craft alcoholic beverages equal an estimated eight percent of total annual alcohol sales.

Montana is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves. He launched Du Nord Craft Spirits in 2013 while working full-time as an attorney. Unable to obtain a bank loan, Montana hit the pavement in search of financing. He was offered a $60,000 loan from a community-based organization — a small fraction of the cost of what was needed to open a distillery.

Montana leaned on his team to figure out how to open and operate a distillery. And eight years later, despite lean beginnings, a global pandemic and vandalism, Du Nord Craft Spirits can leverage their small business to work with a national brand.

Photo: Facebook

Pandemic Pivot and Crowdfunding Rebuild

In March 2020, Du Nord was forced to close the doors of its distillery due to the pandemic. But the company quickly pivoted and began making hand sanitizer. But even this pivot was not met without a challenge: Just two months later, the distillery was set on fire during the civil unrest resulting from George Floyd’s murder.

Instead of closing the doors of the business altogether, Montana and his wife, Shanelle, took it as an opportunity to serve the community and run a crowdfunding campaign. Both initiatives were a success: The food bank was able to help people in their community, while the crowdfunding campaign raised over $700,000 to support the distillery’s reopening.

And that’s not all; Montana has established Du Nord Foundation, addressing racial inequity and providing support to underrepresented entrepreneurs in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

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