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Entrepreneur seeks funds to keep Royal Foundry Distillery, in Minneapolis’ Harrison neighborhood, open

Local entrepreneur Kamillah El-Amin is asking for support to help transform the Harrison neighborhood distillery into a multi-faceted community asset.
“I just want to do my part. I want my opportunity,” says Kamillah El-Amin, who’s looking to purchase Royal Foundry Craft Distillery.
“I just want to do my part. I want my opportunity,” says Kamillah El-Amin, who’s looking to purchase Royal Foundry Craft Distillery.
Photo by Winter Keefer

When Kamillah El-Amin went to Royal Foundry Craft Spirits for the first time in January, she saw incredible potential in the 15,000-square-foot space.

“It’s got good bones,” she said of the business she is looking to own.

Her daughter, an employee of the Royal Foundry in the Harrison neighborhood, told her mother at the end of January that the business was in trouble. After many challenges from COVID Royal Foundry CEO Kelly Everhart announced she would need to close the business at the end of January. That was when El-Amin, a mother, local entrepreneur, and longtime neighborhood resident, jumped into action. After her first stop, she met with Everhart a few days later and wrote a check that next Monday to keep the business alive.

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“That was the easy process. Everything else has been hard,” El-Amin told TCB.

Since writing that first check, El-Amin said she’s been learning and planning. In order to keep the business afloat in the interim, she exhausted much of her current capital. So she’s now asking for community support to stay open.

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On Tuesday, El-Amin launched a GoFundMe with a $160,000 fundraising goal. She said needs to raise at least $60,000 for the lease purchase payment by March 31.

The business is currently open only for limited hours five days a week. In the near future, El-Amin wants to expand to add a coffee and juice shop, using the building as a daytime co-working space. She said she’d like to convert a room near the entrance of the building into a content and comedy room where intimate shows can be held or local artists can record. A membership-only speakeasy could open in a sectioned-off area by the bar, and the large outdoor patio area could become a community space and market.

The distillery already hosts trivia and karaoke nights. Its barrel room has a pickleball and badminton court, along with dart boards. In-house spirits are served in a 2,200-square-foot Cheers-like cocktail room, which would become the daytime coworking space and juice bar.

Banking on community funding

When asked about alternative options for raising money, El-Amin said she is “throwing everything up against the wall” but wants to remain a primary shareholder.

“Every week I’m being told ‘I’ve got a venture capitalist, but they want 50%.’ Okay, how does that work for me? Or, ‘Okay, I’ve got an angel investor, but they’re going to run it with you.’ That’s not what I’m looking for,” she said. “People are so unrealistic on how to partner effectively so I don’t have to give everything away and put all my sweat and equity into it and they get most of the benefit. I know there’s a way and so I want to figure that way out.”

Of the $160,000 she’s looking to raise, $60,000 would go toward the purchase payment, $50,000 toward equipment, $10,000 for supplies, $30,000 for audio and video upgrades, and $10,000 for marketing, the GoFundMe states. El-Amin said the business is slated to be profitable within the next year after some enhancements.

“Your support for this community asset will have a lasting positive influence on the neighborhood. From the business’s earnings, we will create a community re-investment fund for North Minneapolis that helps youth, seniors, and those with disabilities who live in North Minneapolis,” the GoFundMe states.

Multiple housing developments are in the works around the Harrison neighborhood distillery, El-Amin noted, adding that it’s important for locals to own their own space in their own neighborhood.

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The North Minneapolis business community has suffered a couple of heavy blows lately after Aldi and Walgreens in North closed suddenly last month. 

“I still have hope,” El-Amin said. “We can lose some of these battles for sure. But we can still gain something out of this. I just want to do my part. I want my opportunity.”

Royal Foundry CEO Kelly Everhart told TCB she will stay on board to ensure a smooth transitioning of ownership to El-Amin. The licenses for the business, along with all of the assets that are encumbered meaning they are subject to loans, are in Everhart’s name as the business’s CEO.

Selling a bar, restaurant, or, in this case, a distillery can be a complicated process because of state and federal liquor laws, Everhart said. The person assuming the liquor license must meet all the licensing requirements. In Minnesota, the license holder must hold 20% ownership interest in the company.

There are still a number of active shareholders in the corporation. What El-Amin is doing is purchasing the company’s assets by taking over its debt and liabilities.

Everhart and her partners signed a lease for the space in 2017. Soon after, Sergio Manancero with La Doña Cervecería Brewery signed onto another portion of the building, and both businesses started building out before opening in 2018. But Royal Foundry suffered “immensely” due to COVID,” Everhart said. By the fall of 2021, she said her business partners who oversaw operations took a step backward. For a while, Everhart said she picked up the reigns, but it wasn’t sustainable. El-Amin coming in to take on the company was a “right place at the right time” situation.

“I honestly was staring down the barrel of putting some pretty loyal team members out of work and that made me sad,” she said, noting how supportive the team at the distillery is. Of the current staff, Everhart said about 75% live within walking distance from the distillery. “We really are a neighborhood bar.”

The Royal Foundry and La Doña Cervecería Brewery occupy what was once a 25,000-square-foot unheated empty building full of old store fixtures, Everhart said. Sixteen tractor-trailers sat in the parking lot and on the grass next door. “It was an eyesore in the neighborhood,” she said, noting she doesn’t want it to return to that.