Updated: June 03, 2020 08:05 AM
Created: June 02, 2020 10:14 PM
The pallets of scorched and damaged bottles are a sad reminder of the fire that ripped through Du Nord Craft Spirits.
“We had several folks break in and they started multiple fires in there,” owner Chris Montana says quietly. “They stole some inventory, they burned what they couldn't carry.”
Du Nord, launched in 2013 and is the country’s first black-owned distillery.
It is located in South Minneapolis by the Lake Street area and is one of many businesses devastated by arson and looting, following the death of George Floyd.
“I know we're coming off some violent riots and some very peaceful protests,” Montana says. “The aftermath has literally left a scar through Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
The flames broke out around two Friday morning, setting several thousand liters of alcohol on fire.
Even the distillery’s bottling machine was lost.
Sprinklers saved the building.
“It’s kind of go big or go home,” Montana declares. “So if I can’t use this part of my distillery for distilling, then it might be well used for something.”
So he got together with his wife Shanelle and came up with a plan: to feed a community ravaged by rioting.
"So it's taking something that happened that was really bad, and trying to turn it on its side,” says Tina Rexing, the owner of T-Rex Cookies. “So we can make sure it’s a positive impact.”
Dozens of staff and volunteers started Monday, giving away food, toiletries and other desperately needed items.
They’re planning to keep going through the weekend, and maybe beyond.
"I know we've fed thousands of people and hundreds and hundreds of families,” Montana says. “We have the ability to fill a real hole here. Where can you buy groceries anymore? It’s all been burned. If you show up here and say you’ve got a need, then we’re going to fill it.”
But he’s not stopping there.
Montana says insurance will take care of his damage costs.
So with the help of Rexing, and others, he’s started a crowd-sourcing effort to fund a non-profit to help other minority-owned businesses to rebuild.
As of Wednesday morning, they’ve raised more than $200,000.
“We can also help other small business owners who would need that money more than other people would,” she says. “We're putting together a group of people who haven't been impacted by the riots and the damage, to have an outside view to get the money to the community."
Meanwhile, Montana wants to make those pallets of bottles into a kind of artwork.
“There’s something eerily beautiful about it,” he says. “Whatever the rebuilt Du Nord looks like somewhere, this is going to be there. It’ll serve as a reminder of what happened here, and hopefully, a flag point to all the good stuff we did after that.”
A remembrance of sorts, as the distillery pays it forward.
It’s people, now bottling a different kind of spirit: kindness.
"We’re coming off a really tough week and we’re going to need to turn the page,” Montana says. “We've got to come together as a community and we have the opportunity to do something special. Yes, there’s damage. But we’re still here.”
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