For Chris Montana, a distillery wasn’t in the plan. He’d thought about opening a brewery, something for five, 10, or even 15 years down the road. But in 2013, a conversation with a law school friend sparked an idea: a microdistillery. Although craft breweries had begun sprouting in Minneapolis, craft distilleries had yet to take off. And Montana and his wife, Shanelle, were perfectly positioned to fill that space.
Shanelle grew up on a farm in Cold Spring, Minnesota, about 80 miles northwest of the city. Her parents, Mike and Mona Evens, still worked that land, and the corn they grew could serve as the base for spirits like vodka and gin.
“It just seemed like the perfect fit: We could use the corn from that farm, bring it into the city, and help to bridge this urban-rural divide that she and I, in some ways, represent,” says Montana, who grew up in Minneapolis. “I suppose the pieces just fell in place and Du Nord was born.”
It’s a casual—Minnesota nice, you might say—way to describe how Du Nord Craft Spirits opened in 2013 in Longfellow, the same neighborhood where Montana grew up. In reality, opening a small business wasn’t so serene. “Any given day,” he says, “you look up and say, ‘Good Lord, what have I done?’”
For Montana, it had meant leaving a career as a Minneapolis attorney. It’s easy, he points out, to say the hard work was worth it when you’ve come out on the other side. But when you’re in the weeds, a support system is essential—and when you’re running a business with your family, it’s built in. “It gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my father-in-law and get to know him better, and that’s been a positive for me,” Montana says.
Today, Du Nord is an award-winning distillery that prides itself on using local ingredients and connecting local spirit lovers. The cocktail room, added in 2015, allows the Montanas to serve seasonal drinks featuring the products made on-site.
Montana serves as Du Nord’s CEO and head distiller, while Shanelle juggles the administrative side of the business and a job in the renewable energy industry. Together, they handle hiring decisions and raise their three young kids, ages 1, 3, and 5.
Although working with your spouse can have its complications, the pair tries to keep their work and home lives separate. “At the end of the day, whether you like the decision that was made, they’re still going to be there,” Montana says. “You’re not going to lose your best friend over it. That’s the most important thing.”