The Indicator from Planet Money - Coming Back From Covid

Chris Montana is a Minneapolis distillery owner whose business was destroyed in rioting early this year. Since then, he's committed himself to supporting local businesses and raised more than $770,000. | Support The Indicator here.

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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith all this week. We are checking back in with people who Stories We Told in 2020 today. We are talking with Chris Montana. We first spoke with him back in August. Chris is from Minneapolis Minnesota, and he owns a whiskey Distillery. They're called Du Nord. In fact after extensive research Crystal pretty sure that he's the only black Distillery owner in whole United States. Chris's Distillery had a tasting room and do North become a popular neighborhood watering hole before the pandemic, but you know, it was also just a couple of blocks away from Derek Shop & police precinct. Dark. Shaman is the policeman who killed George Floyd the whole neighborhood around the precinct was totally destroyed most of the buildings were

Set on fire including to Nord Crystal remembers walking into his business and sink fires everywhere and understanding that do Nord had been pretty much totally destroyed. Chris is right after he saw his own business. He ran into one of his neighbors a man who owns an Indian restaurant a few doors down anything. Eventually coming around to how is this helping our community and its business into the ground everything 100% cotton and and he was saying like it's just stuff and that probably was the most important thing that happened that day for me because he's right it was just stuff to bring his business back and help out the other small business owners in his neighborhood. So we started a GoFundMe site figuring maybe he'd raise a few thousand dollars be able to help some people out. In fact that GoFundMe site.

Is it being a total game-changer for Chris more than that I could break.

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I mean, I'm looking at your GoFundMe page now opened it up. It's the Juno driver Recovery Fund. Is that the one that you started to help local businesses? $772,000. A lot of these donations are like $20.

This woman Stephanie Markle donated $50 rebuilding one donation at a time Bruce Hynes donated $25. We are a community. Yeah, I don't know. How does it feel to see people giving these like little amounts like so many people like 11,000 people who probably don't have extra money right now.

And have no connection to me, not really but they're looking to help and that is a ton of faith. And you know for for me it's the pressure was just make sure that we are that we are doing right by then and that we are being efficient with their money and there are businesses today that are that are open because of those donations has come to mind that have opened with help from that Foundation was a slap in the face to get over yourself and and your pity party and it's a funny how all those things kind of boomerang

but he moved it and he's got it back open and dinner and a really interesting business and they're back up and running and if that means that he's going to survive this he's going to

and it's just one little Indian restaurant. But if you lose a Gandhi Mahal and you lose all of the other ones you're supporting a pharmacy, which was one of the few pharmacies that did house calls in to the Somali Community. You lose these little businesses that don't really don't make headlines and I don't get on national news and what not. But if it's the collective value of all of them, it makes that area what it is. You can't lose that you lose your soul. I mean, are you hopeful about the Henry building but it also sounds slow. It sounds like there was just a lot of Destruction.

There was a lot of Destruction in all of these places that were burned down there going to have to be rebuilt. And when we rebuild we have to rebuild with an eye towards economic Justice For Those communities of color who today do not feel like their lives are value. So it can't just be that we rebuild whatever its we have to rebuild intentionally. There is a property we are looking at put in this incubation space and and help the next generation of a black and brown owned businesses. Get a it started without having to pay rent.

Oh really? Is that part of what your foundation is doing like making a little incubator for entrepreneurs and front-end load the philanthropy because I don't know if this energy is going to last until 2021 or 2022 but it's there now. So if we go out and structures we can build vessels that can house and anchor businesses and create a a place where communities of color can get their start and that's all about sending out a situation. Where would my kids go out to start their business? Someone doesn't look at them like you don't look like the guy who would own this type of business in the way that when I went out they said while there aren't many black distillers.

You know, you don't look the part. That's what we're working on now building economic engines that will have an effect that last into the future. That's the kind of building that I think we need to be doing that. I would say that probably takes up half my time these days I don't spend much time talking about booze anymore. I spend not have what happened after he was murdered happen again and it won't happen again if people are able to say look this is ours, but we wasn't theirs and they knew it wasn't theirs cashing places with bears.

Well, we have the foundation now and that it does change things when we sell a bottle of our booze. We can support our foundation. That's a fundamental difference 2019. If you bought a bottle of our booze and you bought it because you like good booze and you know, we are here to facilitate a good time. But then you're also supporting this Foundation which will be supporting things like a business incubation space. That's a very different model and see when I look at the Nord in the future. I'm hoping that you know, we're going to be much more aggressive about trying to get into new markets in part because the mission has shifted and it's a lot easier to seven years of running any business will tell you when you recast it this way. It's a lot easier to get the energy to report into that business because it's not just about making booze is not just about facilitating a good time.

Also about making real change in the real people's lives that is fun again. And that's that's the thing. That is it is so wild and I think sometimes I feel bad cuz I know what people are going through it. So it seems odd for someone to say. Hey, this is fun again, but it is because we're doing this is it's a new season. It's a sense of purpose definitely optimistic about the future of us and if we're going to be all right.

This episode of the indicator was produced by Jamila Huxtable and fact-checked by Sean. Saldania. Our editor is Patty Hearst and the indicator is a production of NPR.

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