Scott Pietreface is a cigar aficionado.
Make that a cigar aficionado's aficionado.
In casual conversation, Pietreface, sole owner, proprietor and employee of Fumatore di Sigaro Premier Lounge and Cigar Shoppe, Cape Girardeau, throws out such terms as belicoso, habano and draw in speaking of his business, the cigar renaissance and the joy of hand-crafted cigars. He speaks with the rapidity, knowledge and intensity of nearly 30 years of savoring cigars.
But knowledge and passion, as every small business owner knows, aren't enough. Pietreface knew he needed help and couldn't do it alone.
So he called on Richard Proffer, business development specialist, Cape Girardeau County MU Extension Center SBTDC, to help develop a viable business plan. Pietreface calls Proffer his mentor and credits him for turning smoking passion into smoking reality.
"Anyone who has ever met me knows I am extremely passionate about cigars," Pietreface says. "The challenge was to try to turn an idea to success ... Richard understood my passion and helped turn my dream into reality."
Pietreface says he and Proffer spent two and a half solid years crafting the plan and researching a galaxy of such vital stats including population growth, number of visitors to the Cape Girardeau region (about 1.5 million a year), income, age, race, gender and economics of smokers. They added to that what percent of those smoke hand-rolled cigars in the city, county and its surrounding communities in Missouri, across the river in Illinois and all the way up to St. Louis.
"So from all that, I knew there was a need," Pietreface says. "And I knew that from that need I could create a demand."
Pietreface also knew customer service was key. Today he greets all his customers by name and shakes their hand, asking if they'd like to try something different today. He urges them to stop, shop and linger in his 240-square-foot, Spanish-cedar lined, air-purified humidor; his lounge complete with plush leather chairs, two large high-definition televisions, a 50-inch poker table and custom mahogany bar; or soon, he hopes, out on the patio.
It's all part of his plan to deliver what he calls the "affordable luxury" of cigar smoking to the area.
Fumatore di Sigaro — Italian for "cigar smoker," Pietreface jokes he is one of four Italians in Cape Girardeau — has met that demand. Witness just two customer reviews:
"What more could you ask for? Fantastic and knowledgeable proprietor, beautiful shoppe, huge selection and great all around atmosphere! Scott you've got a winner on your hands!"
"This is a really good place to go and relax at the end of the day ... I've been to a lot of different lounges but this one really seems to stand out."
And that was Pietreface's intention all along.
Pietreface says he clearly remembers his father back in Clarks Summit, just north of Scranton, Pa., doing yard work or tinkering with his truck in a cloud of cigar smoke. As Pietreface grew, so did his expertise in and appreciation of cigars, carrying him through a career that saw him land at Procter & Gamble in Cape Girardeau in 1999 and leave the health products titan at the worst possible time, during the depths of the recession in 2008.
"Those were bad times, he says. "Finding work was difficult. So I decided it was the right time to take a shot at opening my own business."
Pietreface had visited hundreds of cigar shops and lounges all across the country, carefully noted what he liked and disliked, what attracted customers and what left them cold ("Pictures of women in bikinis with an unlit cigar, that doesn't make me want to try that cigar.") and set to work with Proffer. Fumatore di Sigaro opened in 2011.
"I wouldn't be here without Richard," he says. "I just wish I saw him more often!"
Fumatore di Sigaro offers established brands even the most casual smoker has heard of such as Arturo Fuente, Ashton and Dunhill. But what makes the business unique is its line of "boutique" cigars — cigars from tiny and, in many cases, local cigar makers, such as Table 36 Fellowship of St. Louis, as well as such colorfully named cigars as the Tatuaje Regio, Berger + Argenti Mooch, Paul Stulac Phantom, Gurkha Seduction and Evil, and La Flor Dominicana Mysterio.
But what Fumatore di Sigaro really offers, he says, is that most precious of commodity: time. "It [smoking a cigar] is a moment of time you enjoy and look forward to, 20 minutes to an hour and a half that's all yours. No one can take from you ... I get a lot of younger men, aged 18-25. Theirs is a very fast paced life. They approach me to get into the world of cigars, and I say cigars teach you to slow down. Sit down, roll over the thoughts in your head, enjoy your time, enjoy your cigar."
His advice to youth is as valid as to older individuals. So what advice would he give to someone considering starting their own business?
"Over the past year or two, people would ask, 'How's it going?' and 'How'd you get started?' I say everyone should work through the SBTDC. They'll teach you how to create a viable business model." But, he cautions, he still has to work very hard and regularly logs 80-hour-plus weeks: "You only get out of it what you are willing to put in."
Pietreface says cigar making has reached a zenith comparable to hand-crafted beers or the American auto industry: "The demand was there but the passion was not there. Now it is. Right now, I feel cigars are the best they have been, ever.
"Hands down, the best tobacco today is coming out of Nicaragua." Cuban cigars, he says, are not just difficult to purchase but typically counterfeit. "The allure is and always will be that it is illegal ... I don't preach, but why would you want Cuban when the best cigars are made here?"
Especially if they can be savored in an atmosphere of camaraderie and affordable luxury.
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This story was featured in the June 2012 newsletter.
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