Bobalu Cigar Company owner Jeff Lipton picks up a freshly rolled cigar from a pile, inspects it and begins talking about its shape and how to smoke it. This morning the stogie was nothing but loose tobacco and wrapper leaves until native Cuban roller Armando transformed it into a fine cigar.
"When you come here you think of what you see in Miami. We have an authentic atmosphere. We are a haven for people to come to," Lipton said. "You won't find anywhere like us in Texas. You can't just look up cigar rollers in the Yellow Pages."
Lipton founded Bobalu Cigar Company in 1997 as a sister store to the original Bobalu, located in Houston and owned by Lipton's brother.
Looking to try something different, the brothers traveled to the Dominican Republic to learn how to roll cigars. Lipton said that he and his brother looked like "gringos" trying to roll cigars, but they learned, eventually hiring a full-time, on-site cigar roller.
The Houston location has since closed, but Bobalu has flourished in Austin, employing five Cuban refugees as cigar rollers while increasing the store's internet presence and expanding the shop to include authentic Cuban coffee.
"We got started in the heart of the cigar boom; we used to live off Sixth Street traffic," Lipton said. "This place has changed quite a bit since the first day; we've had to evolve. Thank goodness for the internet. That is what has kept us in business."
Bobalu carries 12 different lines of custom cigars, and considers itself the microbrewery of the cigar business, Lipton said. Everything is rolled by hand and exclusive to Bobalu. Custom labels and packaging with personalized names and images for cigars can be arranged as well.
For true celebrations, Bobalu has one cigar roller on staff who does nothing but travel around the country to private parties to roll cigars.
"We do corporate events, graduations, everything. A wedding is the perfect time for a cigar. Anywhere we roll, we're the party," Lipton said.
Lipton mentioned the impact the City of Austin's smoking ban has had on business, but went on to say that the cigar business is a tightknit community used to hard work.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people that come in this store don't know much about cigars; 25 percent think they know what they're talking about. We're happy to work with all of them," Lipton said. "A cigar is relaxing. It's a simple pleasure in life. We love to have people come hang out and learn about cigars; we make it fun."
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Source: Community Impact Newspaper