Travis Barnes has always felt a duty to help people whenever and wherever he could. That proved true before he became a student at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, Barnes, who was attending another college at the time, left school and enlisted in the U.S. Marines, serving three tours in Iraq. While there, he sustained a traumatic brain injury from an IED blast and later dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Following an honorable discharge from the military, Barnes decided to go back to school and enrolled at Purdue Fort Wayne. While a student here, he was selected as a Richard Lugar Student Scholar of International Affairs in 2009 and spent a semester interning for the late senator in Washington. As a student worker at the Gates Sports Center, he helped save the life of a man who suffered a heart attack and collapsed while playing basketball. He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. His next move was to study law and he graduated from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
With this résumé, it would be easy to envision Barnes in a courtroom or crafting legislation. Well, that’s not exactly how this story has played out. Interestingly enough, his driving interest wasn’t in pursuing a career in the law; he wanted to be a whiskey distiller.
Travis began by making small batches of his own whiskey in his backyard. Once he and a group of his friends and investors decided his experiment was ready for larger production, it was time to make a move.
That’s when Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery opened in 2014 near downtown Indianapolis, and they’ve never looked back. The venture now includes four total locations including a tasting room in Fort Wayne.
Part of the leadership team’s philosophy includes giving back to the community, both in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.
When the public’s reaction to COVID-19 caused a shortage of hand sanitizer, Barnes and the company felt compelled to do something about it.
“We sat down as a leadership team, to critically discuss what resources we have and how we could use them to help,” said Barnes. “We saw there was a huge shortage of hand cleaners in the market, and therefore a shortage for charitable organizations that need them. Since we already have facilities and equipment geared toward producing high-proof alcohol, which is a common cleaning and antibacterial agent, it feels like we have a duty to help wherever we can.”
That desire prompted them to redirect their efforts from producing whiskey and other spirits to making government-approved hand cleaner. They donated and sent the first 2,000 bottles of the cleaner to schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and other nonprofit organizations in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.
The company continues to make the hand cleaner, both for sale and as a donation to charitable causes.
“We’re filled with joy that we have been able to help folks through these sales and the resulting donations to groups all over the country,” Barnes added. “I’m very proud of my team’s gung-ho attitude. They have continued to persevere and lend a helping hand in any way we’ve asked through this unprecedented time.”
Barnes says they plan to continue to work hard and try to fill the demand as long as it’s needed.