When Chris and Shanelle Montana founded Du Nord Craft Spirits in 2013, they chose the Longfellow neighborhood in southern Minneapolis, “in part because it was a little quieter,” Mr. Montana said.

It didn’t work out that way. Over the past four months, Du Nord has been buffeted and transformed by each new trauma to shake the city, and the world.

In mid-March, with the coronavirus converging on the United States, the couple, like many other distillers, ceased making their gin, vodka, whiskey and liqueurs, and began manufacturing much-needed hand sanitizer.

Mr. Montana handed out that sanitizer to protesters outside the nearby Third Precinct police station after the killing of George Floyd on May 25. The distiller was tear-gassed twice for his trouble.

In the early hours of May 29, Du Nord, like many businesses in the neighborhood, was in flames. The fire activated its sprinkler system, which added water damage to the devastation. The night after that, the Montanas’ East Lake Street apartment building was set on fire.

No sooner had Du Nord begun to clean up than Mr. Montana quickly pivoted, converting what was left of the building, where he leases space, into an impromptu food bank to aid the reeling neighborhood.

“I think one of the things that has made it easier personally is there’s just so much to do,” said Mr. Montana, 37. “You don’t really have time to sit down and soak it all in. I might be bummed because some people set fire to my distillery. That saddens me and angered me. But right now, I have food every night. I’m fine. There are people doing so much worse than I am.”

Du Nord’s experience is all the more remarkable in the current cultural context because Mr. Montana is one of the few Black distillery owners in the United States.

During the protests and ensuing unrest that engulfed much of East Lake Street, he had to weigh his instincts as a business owner against the dangers that might await him outside. When he heard at 2 a.m. on May 29 that his distillery was on fire, he did not rush to the site, but waited until daybreak.

“That was very scary,” said Shanelle Montana, 36, “the thought of his going back to a burning distillery when the police walk by. Are they going to think he’s a distillery owner mourning his distillery?”

Though the Montanas, who have three young children, have enough to contend with on their own, their focus has been helping the community. The food bank in the distillery has paused while critical repairs are made to the waterlogged building, but Du Nord is likely to reopen it, based on community need in the coming months.

When friends started GoFundMe accounts for them, the couple’s reaction was to answer those efforts with a fund-raising drive of their own to help other businesses in the area owned by people of color. “I knew a lot of them were uninsured or underinsured,” Mr. Montana said.

The Du Nord Craft Spirits Riot Recovery Fund, administered by the newly created nonprofit Du Nord Foundation, has since raised roughly two-thirds of its $1 million goal. “We’re hoping that within the next two weeks, we’re going to start writing checks,” said Mr. Montana, who hopes to get back to producing spirits by the fall.

This generosity in the face of personal adversity has not surprised the couple’s friends and colleagues. “He’s always making the best of whatever situation is handed to him,” said Jon Kreidler, a co-founder of Tattersall Distilling, a Minneapolis company that teamed up with Du Nord on sanitizer production.

“Chris and Shanelle would never turn down an opportunity to serve the community,” said Jessica Ward-Denison, an organizer of the food bank. “With the scariness and sadness of the days leading up to this, I think there was a great need for something positive.”

Ms. Montana, who is white, took more time getting to that positive place.

”I was very angry for a long time,” she said of the destruction. “A lot that were hit were small mom-and-pop businesses by people of color that had been in business for a long time.

“But as I talked to people, a lot of them said, ‘If this is what it takes to change things, then this is what it takes.’ It really changed my perspective. I got there. It took me longer, but I got there, to see the hope in this and to separate the damage from the change it might bring.”

Mr. Montana benefited from a broader view, informed by his childhood. Soon after his family moved to Minnesota from Indiana, in 1991, he recalled a rally and chants of “No justice, no peace.”

“Then, it was about Rodney King,” he said. “It occurred to me that here we are, almost 30 years on, the chants are the same, the problems are the same.”

This time, though, he senses a shift.

“I don’t condone the property damage, but I do understand it,” Mr. Montana said. “If that means there’s going to be attention paid to this fundamental issue in our country, then it’s worth it. I don’t know if there’s a person of color in this country that, whether they own the business or not, who would not pay that price over and over again.”


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