July 22, 2020 4:00 am Published by

Episode 65:

In 2013, Chris Montana had a crazy idea to start a distillery in the middle of the city he loved. The goal was to start a family business that would bring together Shanelle Montana’s rural upbringing on a Cold Spring, MN farm, and Chris’s experience growing up in Minneapolis. The result is Du Nord Craft Spirits, a scrappy distillery born of rural practicality and city vibe. Since 2013, the Du Nord family has grown from those small beginnings; what we do today is a result of the collective efforts of a group of people who bring their unique talents to the Du Nord team. Du Nord is committed to diversifying the craft alcohol community and actively recruits the underrepresented communities of women and racial minorities to join the Du Nord family.

Shanelle Montana’s path wound from a small farm in central Minnesota to college in St. Paul, and a Masters degree in Washington, D.C. While living on the east coast, she maintained her Minnesota cred: showing the state of Maryland how to fish and finding time to return to the woods for the deer hunting opener. Even though on a daily basis Shanelle focuses on making sure the lights stay on by developing renewable energy projects, she also manages regulatory and reporting requirements and leads Du Nord marketing.

Chris Montana grew up in several different neighborhoods in Minneapolis but spent most of his time in South Minneapolis and Prospect Park. Chris attended public schools in Minneapolis and later earned an English degree from the University of the District of Columbia, and a law degree from Hamline University. Chris is still a licensed attorney, but prefers to make booze. Chris’s first passion was electoral politics which led to travels all over the country and eventually to work as a congressional aide in D.C. (working for Minneapolis of course). Chris used his organizing skills to convince a smart and sassy intern named Shanelle to give him the time of day; it only took him 7 years. When not making booze or sifting through paperwork, Chris is usually eating a dessert of some kind while playing with his sons. Chris wears many hats but primarily acts as CEO and head distiller.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Chris Montana’s journey into entrepreneurship
  • How Chris became the first black distillery owner in the U.S.
  • The birth of Du Nord Craft Spirits
  • How Chris responded to the lack of diversity in the spirits industry
  • Chris’s experience owning a business that was located in the middle of the George Floyd riots
  • Why Chris founded the Du Nord Foundation
  • How Chris knows he has been successful in the long term


Entrepreneurship and Activism

Full-disclosure—before I had Chris Montana on the show, we were already huge fans of his Du Nord Craft Spirits. That was a great surprise, but Chris’s work goes far beyond the bounds of his business. Chris is doing tremendous things in the city of Minneapolis to level the playing field and include disadvantaged communities. He has set out to make an impact through his business and his other endeavors, and in this episode of Intentional Greatness, he joins us to share his story. Chris talks about his journey into entrepreneurship and what it was like becoming the first black distillery owner in the U.S. He explains the different ways he has used his business as a vehicle to make an impact in the community, and what is being done to make the spirits industry more diverse as a whole.

The Birth of Du Nord

Chris is the founder and owner of the first black-owned distillery in the U.S. After spending a good amount of time in activism and politics, Chris eventually returned to Minnesota with his would-be wife to study law. During that time, he discovered the untapped world of micro-distilleries and saw an opportunity to spark a new trend in the Twin Cities by making great booze. But it quickly turned into something much greater than that, and Chris decided to be a disrupter in an industry where transparency is nonexistent.

Diversity is Who We Are

When Chris found out how homogeneous the spirits industry was, he was inspired to do something about it. Diversity is not a pin that we wear to a rally, wave our flag, and go home. Diversity is baked into our core. It is who we are and what we do. That notion was put to the test when the George Floyd riots broke out in Minneapolis right near his business. Du Nord was a beacon in the community by that point, and while it suffered some damages, the bulk of the business was unscathed. That is completely unheard of in that part of the city. But since Chris believed so strongly in the cause, he decided to give his business to the community, and the community gave it back to him.

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