WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Just off Stratford Road on a recent afternoon, several men sat on the front porch of a rustic, wooden building, chatting among themselves and watching life go on around them.
Cigar smoke drifted along on a gentle breeze.
The men were customers at Twin City Cigar Co., a boutique cigar and pipe lounge on Mill Street, just off Stratford. John Anetrella opened the business, which focuses strictly on pipe tobacco and cigars, in January 2013. The lounge is housed in a building that was part of the mill village of Hanestown.
“This whole place is about the culture of cigars,” Anetrella said of Twin City Cigar.
Anetrella, who lives in Winston-Salem and is a cigar smoker, also runs a technology company called Causa Technologies. He had previously visited a cigar lounge in Greensboro before deciding to open his own lounge.
He said he wanted to create a lounge that embraced the cigar culture and gave people a place to smoke cigars in Winston-Salem.
“I definitely saw a niche,” he said. “On the business side of it, there’s a need because there’s nothing that exists here.”
He said that because of litigation and rules related to smoking, it’s getting harder to find places where people can enjoy a cigar.
“There is concern in the industry that the FDA will over regulate tobacco sales relating to premium cigars,” Anetrella said.
Growth areas in the industry, in terms of products, include boutique cigars.
“We’ve seen a lot more demand for boutique cigars,” said Kyle Whalen, public relations manager for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association. “Boutique cigars are usually a limited run of cigars, only made with a limited amount of tobacco available. (They’re) just a little bit rarer.”
The retail aspect of Twin City Cigar offers a variety of brands of cigars, single and boxed. Singles range from $5 to $30.
Anetrella said he considers all the cigars he carries as boutique cigars.
“But they are all hand-made, premium cigars,” he said.
He said no mechanized processes are used in the cigars in his lounge.
Twin City Cigar has two indoor lounges and two porches, one of which is screened in. The plush seating in the lounges are all leather rather than fabric because fabric is more likely to hold smoke odors. A ventilation system runs throughout the building to continually keep smoke at a minimum and bring in fresh air. Other amenities include TVs, wireless printing and faxing, and a charging station for such tech items as tablet computers and smartphones.
While the lounge is open to the public, Anetrella also offers memberships. Practically all of the 60 lockers he set up for members have been taken.
“We have members that buy significant amounts of cigars, especially special edition cigars and things like that,” Anetrella said.
He keeps his cigars in a 150-square-foot, climate-controlled humidor that is lined with Spanish cedar.
“We have about 400 facings, which is basically 400 different boxes,” he said.
He believes that the size of cigars makes a huge difference in their taste. One of the smallest cigars he sells has a 40 ring gauge and is 5 ½ inches long, while one of his largest cigars has a 70 ring gauge and is 7 inches long.
“There is a movement right now in the industry to go for bigger cigars, for people to buy and for manufacturers to produce bigger cigars,” he said. “True cigar aficionados smoke smaller cigars.”
He explained that a cigar’s wrapper has a lot to do with the taste.
“The wrapper on the cigar is the most expensive leaf because it has the most flavor, and it changes the flavor of the cigar more dramatically than any other part of the cigar,” he said.
At Twin City Cigar, pipe tobacco ranges from $2.95 an ounce to $7 an ounce, and is offered in bulk or as specialty brands in tin cans. The business also sells cigar accessories such as cutters, lighters and humidors.
Anetrella has immersed himself in the cigar culture to the point that he even rolls cigars at Twin City Cigar to educate customers about the cigar industry.
For Anetrella, until people sit down and touch a tobacco leaf and works with it, they will have no idea of how difficult it is to produce a premium cigar.
“It gives customers a better appreciation of the process,” he said. “It gives them more knowledge of the blending process. It creates a customer that is more educated.”
Currently, the lounge’s customers have a close-up view of the razing of the former Hanesbrand plant, which is being torn down to make way for a mixed-use development. The demolition makes for interesting conversation between Twin City Cigar’s customers, who tend to range in age from 35 to 60.
Most of Anetrella’s customers are men, but he said a good number of women do visit the lounge.
“It transcends all socioeconomic boundaries and racial boundaries,” he said of the lounge, adding that customers include professors, doctors, engineers, and retired police officers.
Fram Polad of Winston-Salem has been a customer since the lounge opened and enjoys watching soccer on TV there.
“I like smoking cigars, and this is a great place to smoke cigars,” Polad said. “There’s great company and good cigars.”
Wayne Spivey of High Point and Billy Rich of Winston-Salem visit the lounge practically every day of the week.
“I like the people,” Spivey said. “I’ve made some good friendships.”
Rich recalled how he and other cigar smokers used to have a hard time finding a place to smoke in town until now.
He likes going to the lounge to smoke even if it’s just on a 15-minute break.
“Now, with the weather being nice, you can sit out on the porch,” Rich said.
Diego Castano, a sales rep for Flor De America Cigars, a cigar maker in Statesville, said he has been to a lot of tobacco shops in North Carolina but hasn’t come across one quite like Twin City Cigar.
“It’s like you are on the tobacco farm,” Castano said.