A local vodka brand, focused on lake life, gives back to families affected by cancer—a cause close to the founders’ hearts.
Long Lake’s Todd Epley and his business partner, Chad Moe, aren’t just partners—they’re brothers-in-law. And bringing a sense of family and community to their business ventures is what they do best. “We really are all about the good life and good, positive energy,” Epley says. Launching Tonka Vodka, their locally produced vodka brand (complete with an image of Lake Minnetonka on the label), gave them yet another way to spend quality time together and give back to a cause that’s close to their family.
Epley and Moe donate 10 percent of all Tonka Vodka profits to cancer-related nonprofits and foundations. “We were initially giving to any nonprofits who asked,” Moe says. “And then my wife, Anne—Todd’s sister—was diagnosed with cancer” in 2022. “We decided to focus our giving on cancer. It was something that we could really get behind, and it gives us motivation for building the brand—not only to make profits, but to put them to good use and hopefully help a lot of people.” They give to organizations, including the Angel Foundation, Relay for Life, Corbin’s Benefit, Rhino’s Foundation and many others.
Even before Anne’s diagnosis, the family had been touched by cancer. Moe’s great-grandmother and grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer; his grandfather had melanoma; his mother had breast cancer and melanoma; and his aunts have also faced breast cancer. “It’s really affected my family a ton,” he says and is part of why he’s inspired to live life to its fullest and to give back wherever he can. “We were not well off when I was a kid,” Moe says. “My dad made $8 an hour with three kids—and my parents still tithed 10 percent every week, no matter what. That’s something I always try to live by.”
Epley’s family story echoes those notes. He grew up on a farm in Austin, Minnesota. “It’s all about that hard work ethic we learned from our parents, which kind of set us up for being entrepreneurs and giving back,” he says. Epley’s dad was part of the Hormel meatpacking labor strike in the mid-1980s, and their family was on the receiving end of charitable giving. “We got so much support from local charities to make sure our family was taken care of during the strike,” he says. “I have a warm feeling when I’m able to give back to families in need.”
The idea for a lake life-focused vodka came easily to the brothers-in-law. They’d been searching for a whiskey that they could brand and distribute, especially since Moe is a self-described “whiskey guy.” The duo has the bona fides to sniff out good spirits; for several years, they co-owned a group of liquor stores and are also partners in Balsam Lake Lodge, a resort and restaurant in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin. But Moe couldn’t find a whiskey he loved. “Then I tried this vodka, and I just loved it. It was the best vodka I’d ever tasted,” he says.
“At our initial tasting, we looked at each other—we couldn’t even believe there was vodka in the drink,” Epley says. “It was so smooth. We decided to distill it a few more times to see if we could make it even better.” The vodka is distilled nine times and is made from Midwest-grown corn. It’s also carbon-filtered at the end of the process, making it as “clean” as possible, Moe says, adding, “It has a great palate and is less harmful on your body than some less filtered brands.”
Now, that vodka is spreading positivity twofold: as a reminder to enjoy the energy of lake life and as a way to give back to an important cause.
February is National Cancer Prevention Month.
Moe and Epley share two of their favorite Tonka Vodka cocktail recipes—including one pink punch that’s a perfect complement to a Valentine’s Day meal.
In a glass, combine 1.5 oz. of Tonka Vodka with 1 oz. each of cranberry juice, orange juice and lemon-lime pop. Mix, and garnish with a pineapple slice, mint and a cherry.
Place a cucumber slice in a glass. Add 1.5 oz. of Tonka Vodka and 1 oz. of simple syrup. Add 2 mint leaves. Fill the glass with lemon-lime pop. Shake, and garnish with a cucumber slice.
Visit tonkavodka.com for a full list of where to find the brand.