Local entrepreneurs open a cigar lounge

By COLBY DENTON
Posted 4/21/19

Fellow cigar smokers should grab their friends, because Cleveland is now home to an all-new cigar lounge called Ocoee Cigars, which not only sells cigars but also offers a relaxed, inviting lounge …

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Local entrepreneurs open a cigar lounge

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Fellow cigar smokers should grab their friends, because Cleveland is now home to an all-new cigar lounge called Ocoee Cigars, which not only sells cigars but also offers a relaxed, inviting lounge for you to sit and enjoy your stogies after a long day.

Just opening on Friday, April 12, Ocoee Cigars is run by local co-owners and cousins Abu and Chuck Swafford. Both are proud former Cleveland Blue Raiders, and while Chuck went to MTSU following high school, Abu joined the U.S. Navy.

Having settled down in Cleveland, the two — who both have a passion for cigars — saw a need in the community and filled it.

“We knew there was a niche market that we could get into here, and we came up with the idea after sitting around smoking some good cigars,” Abu said.

They are located at 246 N Ocoee St., and this centralized location has provided ample amounts of foot traffic from interested passersby. Chuck says one gentleman even came in because he was driving and smelled cigar smoke, wondered where it was coming from and was pleasantly surprised to find their lounge.

The decor of Ocoee Cigars, with its dark leather chairs and couches, its Native American art and its relaxed environment, was crafted over a short time before its opening, with many pieces coming from local businesses and artists.

Upon entering the lounge, you’ll be greeted by a large, flat-screen TV, along with several comfortable places to sit and a coffee table that once served as a railroad cart.

Adjacent to the TV is an honor wall, featuring large signs depicting the logos of the branches of our nation’s military, as a nod to Abu’s service and both of the men’s patriotism.

Down the hall from the immediate lounge is a walk-in humidor room, followed by a smaller, separate room for private meetings and games, all culminating in an outdoor patio the pair plan to decorate for groups to enjoy.

The cousins offers 32 facings of cigar options to choose from, all contained within their walk-in humidor. Premium brands are carried, such as Alec Bradley, Gurkha, Drew Estate, Cohiba, Arturo Fuente, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta, while other lighter brands such as Tatianas are also available for new smokers or those who prefer a sweeter cigar. Chuck and Abu also carry several local cigar brands, such as Crown Head (Nashville) and Atsiniki, which was their signature cigar during the store’s grand opening.

“While many people view cigar smoking as a masculine thing, there are some female smokers out there too, and we’d never want to alienate them,” Abu said.

Atsiniki is based in Nashville, and is run by Choctaw-native Charles Robinson, who was given this name, which means Storyteller, by his wife’s Blackfoot tribe on a trip to Alberta, Canada.

Chuck says they’ve experienced a surge in community and downtown support for Ocoee Cigars, with some customers donating ashtrays and other items despite the cousins’ absolute lack of previous marketing efforts. He added how some people have even come in and thanked them for providing something that Cleveland had been lacking.

Abu explained how all major downtown areas, from Chattanooga to New York City, have at least one local cigar lounge, and says they’ve heard some people tell them they look for local cigar shops when traveling.

Chuck began smoking cigars after growing up around men he respected who would often smoke them.

“I always saw it as a masculine thing growing up, so I had this fascination with cigars,” Chuck said.

Abu’s preferred cigar brand is an Arturo Fuente, while Chuck enjoys Cohiba and Padron.

Various cigar founders have visited Ocoee Cigars in its short lifespan, including the founder of Acid Cigars, Rick Ardito, who is now with Foundation Cigars; and Charles Robinson, with Atsiniki.

In addition to the cigars, Ocoee Cigars carries various tobacco paraphernalia, such as ashtrays, cigar cutters and lighters, and is planning to bring in a line of pipes and pipe tobacco as well.

They also sell lockers for their premier members, with a locker costing between $50 per month for silver, $75 for gold and $100 for platinum. Depending on the level of locker you choose, you’ll get a $30, $60 and $100 in-store credit respectively per month. They’ve now sold 27 lockers out of 48.

Abu says that one of the best aspects of cigar smoking is the community that forms around the hobby.

“You can be on a beach, smell a cigar and start talking with a complete stranger about anything. Cigars bring people together and break down barriers, because there’s no specific demographic of cigar smoker,” Abu said.

Unfortunately, the cigar industry itself comes with several instant obstacles, such as impending restrictions on cigars in various forms. Since starting the business, they say they’ve had to study up on the legislation behind the industry.

“Some people have tried to raise taxes on tobacco, others have tried to equate cigars with cigarettes, which is crazy because they’re totally different,” Chuck said. He notes that while cigarettes are made for inhaling, cigars are not, and could even make the smoker sick if inhaled.

Chuck and Abu have also partnered with MainStreet Cleveland and the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce to improve their marketing and get involved within the community. They’re building their social media presence, and are excited to bring new offerings to customers in the near future, such as cigar bars for events, which they’ve already been contacted about providing for weddings.

They’ve even gotten a visit from Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks, who stopped by to congratulate the two on their store’s success and wish them luck.

When not puffing on cigars, Chuck works as an engineer at CSX Transportation, and Abu works as a network administrator at Cleveland Utilities.

They encourage everyone in town, regardless of cigar expertise, to come check out their new storefront, have a chat and smoke a cigar with them.

“This is a place you can come relax with a variety of different people all around a common interest,” Chuck said.

Since Ocoee Cigars sells beer, you have to be 21 or older to enter due to state law.

For more information, go to their website at www.ocoeecigars.com or check out their Facebook or Instagram pages. Ocoee Cigars is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturdays, noon to 11 p.m. and can be reached at 423-790-5070.

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