By Megan Sayles
When Chris Montana and his wife, Shanelle, opened Minnesota-based Du Nord Social Spirits in 2013, it became the first Black-owned distillery in the country. The husband and wife duo and their small team took it one spirit at a time. After starting with vodka, they eventually added a gin, two liqueurs and a whiskey to round out their product line.
Now, the distillery has landed a partnership with Delta Air Lines, which has begun serving Du Nord Social Spirits’ vodka on all domestic flights.
“I’ve been asked in the past about some of my prouder moments in this industry, and the first one is seeing our bottle on the shelf for the very first time,” said Montana. “But, now, this is a very close second.”
Montana credited the six women, who he said lead the company, with transforming the small distillery into one that can supply a major airline. He also acknowledged Jack Daniels, which has served as Du Nord Social Spirit’s bottling partner. `
The road to boarding Delta Air Lines with their spirits was not an easy one though. The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic forced Du Nord Social Spirits to close its cocktail room, which made up most of its revenue.
The distillery shifted its entire business model to wholesale and began making hand sanitizer to stay afloat. When Delta Air Lines reached out in the summer of 2020, Montana said it was both a good and terrible time.
The inquiry materialized following the murder of George Floyd, which was just a few miles away from the distillery. Montana and his family were focused on aiding their community rather than producing spirits.
Fortunately, Montana said Delta Air Lines was understanding. After sampling the distillery’s products, they decided they wanted to bring them aboard.
“They knew from the beginning that to work with a company of our size was going to be much harder than everyone else that they work with,” said Montana. “They’re a big company; they’re used to working with big companies. To work with us, they had to be patient and try to understand the industry from our perspective so they could assess their own risk but also be realistic in their expectation of us.”
While working with Du Nord Social Spirits for over a year and a half, Delta Air Lines ensured that this endeavor would not cause the distillery to suffer in any way, and Montana said the collaboration has been a pleasure.
Next year, the airline company intends to carry Du Nord Spirits’ vodka on international flights, as well as another product from the distillery.
A portion of the sales from this partnership, as with all of Du Nord Social Spirit’s sales, will go to the Du Nord Foundation, which was founded during the 2020 civil unrest to address racial inequities in the Twin Cities.
The funds will be used to further the foundation’s mission of providing food security and business development within BIPOC communities.
“If the George Floyd’s of people who look like me and look like George Floyd were also understood to be the same kind of financial elites that our white neighbors are, it’d be less likely that he would have been done the way he was,” said Montana.
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