John Eskici

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S&A TEACHES 'CIGARS 101' By Christopher Loh/ Staff Writer Friday, December 9, 2005

Watertown TAB & Press, MA Dec. 10, 2005

While an unassuming storefront hides the S&A Smoke Shop on Mt. Auburn Street, visitors soon learn they are in for more than just the regular cigar experience after a couple of minutes in the newly opened store.

Much the same as its storefront, the S&A's interior is also bare but is meant to be.

Fixed with a counter, flat-screen television and cash register, the squared shop's walls are lined with cigar cases kept at 70 degrees and 70 percent humidity, levels perfect for the storage of fine cigars.

While other shops sell magazines, the S&A does not; it is clear the shopper's focus is to be on the cigars and not reading material.

Appearing from the back room of the shop, S&A co-owner John Eskici stands stocky, sporting a thick mustache and a strong Armenian accent.

"We've been open for three weeks," Eskici said. "The business has been good so far; considering we're so new, the response has been really great."

>From the look of him, one senses that Eskici not only understands cigars and the art of smoking a thick stogie, but has a great comprehension of the tobacco business the normal smoke shop owner would not. Eskici's credentials - exporting European tobacco before coming to America 25 years ago.

"I love cigars and I really enjoy smoking them," Eskici said. "I've been in the tobacco business a long time, but this is what I always wanted."

Eskici's friend Norik Pishdochian, owner of Boston's Gloucester Street Cigar Company, was eager to point out what separates the S&A (named after Eskici's sons Steven and Andrew) from any other smoke shop: "We will educate the customer on not only the cigar, but how to smoke the cigar as well."

Pishdochian's Gloucester Street Cigar Company will share joint ventures with the S&A in the future.

Eskici's favorite type of tobacco is Dominican-made including Avos and Monte Cristos.

"We have more than 50 brands in the shop," Eskici said. "Right now, we have people coming from all over, so we're going on the Internet soon."

The shop features a 10 percent discount on all boxes.

"It used to be that people had their favorite brands so they would buy boxes of their favorite cigars," Eskici said. "Now they like to mix and match. We do order boxes straight from the manufacturer, though; the customer just has to come up with the make and size."

Perhaps one of the best-known facts about cigar smoking is that the sale of Cuban-made cigars has been banned inside the United States.

"We want people to know any cigars with a Cuban tag are fixed," Eskici said. "Those are not real Cubans because you can't get Cubans in America."

Asked to provide a cigar smoking education, Pishdochian jumped at the chance.

"First you have to decide what kind of mood you're in because if you're not in the mood for a cigar, you're not going to enjoy it," Pishdochian said matter-of-factly. "Mood also depends on the taste of the cigar, if you want something bold or mild. Always be sure to eat something and make sure to have something to sip on, tea or liquor, water or coffee. Never wet the cigar in your mouth. If you smoke a cigar for 45 minutes, it should only be in your mouth 15 minutes of the time. You do not want the taste to be overburdening."

One of the keys to cigar smoking, according to Pishdochian, is to take your time.

"Don't smoke a cigar too fast," Pishdochian said. "You won't get the right taste. It's not a bad thing if the cigar goes out, you can always re-light it. Never inhale the cigar smoke."

Pishdochian and Eskici agreed with each other, saying the cigar wrapper is the most important element in the taste.

"I see some people smoking cigars, hanging them out of their car windows and the wrapper comes off," Eskici said. "This is very bad. The wrapper is so important to the taste, you can always tell a good cigar by how strong the wrapper is."

"It's like what you like about wine," Eskici said of a person's affinity toward cigars. "Cigars are like wine and have different tastes. We don't want people to just come in and grab; we want this to be a friendly place where we can educate the customer. We know what we're selling; this is a real education."

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