LACONIA — A cigar might be made of nothing but tobacco leaves, yet, in the same way that wine is usually made from nothing but grapes, there can be a surprising amount of complexity and depth contained within.
“When I look at a cigar, I look at it as a chef looks at a meal,” said Jake Lemieux, one of the two partners who recently opened a cigar lounge in Lakeport. “I think it’s fascinating, the flavors you can get with the different blends of tobacco.”
Lemieux and his business partner, Paul Boucher opened Etiquette Cigars, at 59 Elm Street, on Friday. They each came to cigars as an escape from their regular lives, and opened a cigar lounge as a way to share their interest with others.
Lemieux, 24, went to college at age 16 and graduated at 20 with a degree in computer networking.
“I did tech support for the last four years, it drove me insane to sit in a cubicle all day,” he said. He was living in Nashua, and to unwind he found himself visiting Castro’s Back Room. He ended up spending so much time there that they hired him as a part-time employee. The same thing happened to Boucher.
“Pretty much, we were just hanging out, we said, ‘it would be cool to have a cigar shop,’” Lemieux said.
So the two started to analyze the state. They wanted to steer clear of Castro’s four locations – Concord, Nashua, Manchester and Bedford. And they found that Laconia was lacking a tobacco shop that included a space where patrons could enjoy their purchase. They figured the spot they found on Elm Street would be convenient for boaters heading to Lakeport’s marinas, to golfers on their way to Laconia Country Club, and would have good visibility for visitors in town for Laconia Motorcycle Week.
The “Etiquette” part of the name reflects Lemieux and Boucher’s desire to distinguish themselves from other “smoke shops” that seem more interested in stocking glass smoking paraphernalia or vaping supplies. Instead, they will only sell cigars and a limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages. Perhaps they will expand to pipe tobacco, but that’s it.
Lemieux said he expects the shop to attract a mixture of visitors and locals, some of whom will take advantage of the seating in the shop. Cigar smokers – cigarette smoking will be prohibited, but pipes will be tolerated – can bring their own beverage while they work on a laptop, watch a large-screen television or converse with others.
It was those conversations, as much as the cigars, that kept Lemieux coming back to Castro’s.
“The people you run into, the networking, was what made it worth it for me. You run into people from all walks of life,” he said.
Lemieux started frequenting cigar lounges when he was 18. “At the time, I thought it was a cool thing to do. I didn’t really understand it.” Since then, though, he has become fascinated with cigars. He’s visited farms in Connecticut that grow tobacco, and facilities in Nicaragua that hand-roll the finished product.
“Each cigar passes through 200 hands before it reaches the shelf,” Lemieux said. When it reaches that shelf, each one has a story to tell, he added. One of his favorites is the Hererra Esteli, made by Drew Estates. The cigar is named after its creator, famed Florida tobacco blender Willy Hererra that Drew Estates was able to lure to their Nicaragua facility. Lemieux likes it because it’s a subtler experience than many big-flavored cigars, yet still brings plenty of flavor.
“Smooth, rich and creamy smoke. It’s not especially peppery,” he said. It’s a cigar that lends itself to the experience. “The point of a cigar is to take the cool smoke into your mouth and enjoy it, kick back for once.”
He hopes it is an experience he can share with people, whether they’re already aficianados or not.
“If anybody has questions, that’s what we’re here for.”
Etiquette Cigars is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.