For most people, it might be the encouragement of a teacher or an unexpected summer job that gives them their vision for a future career.
For Andrew Lee, that eureka moment came in the smoky setting of a cigar bar.
Less than a decade later at the grand opening of his Executive Cigars store in Historic Deutschtown on Saturday, Nov. 7, the young businessman stood in the walk-in humidor, remembering how his dream began.
“The first time I went into a cigar shop in Ohio,” Lee recalled, “I said, ‘you know, this is what I want to do, open a [cigar] store and retire.’”
Lee said he’s only completed the first of four phases at his new Suismon Street establishment.
The grand opening showcased the finished first-floor: a retail shop, a walk-in humidor with over 100 cigar varieties and a smoke room in the building’s rear, replete with living room-style furnishings and three plasma screen TVs.
Lee plans on unveiling phase two — a private members lounge on the second floor with a separate entrance from the shop — on New Year’s Eve. The members lounge will double as an event center that Lee will rent out to the public.
The third phase is slated for the spring and will give the establishment a café-style makeover. Lee will add wrought-iron tables to the sidewalk and offer sandwiches and beverages to the mix.
Next fall, Lee wants to complete the renovations with an open-air restaurant with seating for 50 on the third floor.
“There will be no menu at the restaurant,” Lee said. “It’s whatever the chef cooks that day.”
But the main thrust of his business will always be his cigars. As customers glanced through his large selection of maduros, claros, Rothschilds and Churchhills in the humidor, Lee conveyed his ability to find the perfect cigar for even the non-smoker.
He directed the woman to a mocha-flavored brand that he said were a hit with infrequent smokers.
An aficionado for the last ten years, Lee got his start in the cigar business two years ago, when he became a regional sales executive for Oliva Cigars of Nicaragua. According to Lee, he doubled the sales in his territory and decided he wanted to move into the retail industry.
Lee called his opening night “historic,” claiming his was the first racially-integrated cigar shop in the country.
In traveling to shops from Miami to New York City, Lee said that he’s never observed a single cigar shop where white and black cigar enthusiasts share the same quarters. He also believes that Executive Cigars is only the fourth black-owned cigar shop in the country and the only one in the state.
Using an internet marketing strategy focused on elite cigar smokers, Lee hopes to entice black and white professionals to join the members club, “a place where networking is king.”
Lee said he hopes his focus on elite customers will separate his store from other Pittsburgh shops. If his first enterprise succeeds, Lee wants to expand the franchise to Harrisburg, Cincinatti and other cities.
So far, his shop on Suismon Street seems to be turning heads.
Tom Barbush, of Allegheny West, is happy to have a Northside establishment to enjoy his hobby.
“Now I don’t have to go to the Southside to get cigars no more,” Barbush said.