SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - For some people, seeing your life dream go up in smoke would be a crushing experience.
Not so for Patrick Fertitta. Going up in smoke is a big part of his dreams.
Fertitta, 34, and a member of the family that gave Shreveport Fertitta’s Delicatessen and the famed Muffy sandwich, is expanding the family name into online-sale specialty cigars - boutique smokes, if you will - even as he leaves the city to embark on another dream: becoming a Methodist minister.
“It goes back to my five-year stint at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri,” Fertitta said. “I got into cigars with some of my friends. We - some of the seminarians - had a little cigar society, and that’s where I started learning about cigars a little bit more.”
Fertitta finished at Concordia in August, was ordained in the Lutheran Church’s Missouri Synod in January and, on Feb. 22, was installed at his first pastorate at University Lutheran Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
He’ll continue to operate his cigar business, importing and wholesaling private-label cigars, from afar with his uncle, Mickey Fertitta, here as local representative and financial backer.
“My uncle Mickey, he’s smoked cigars as long as I’ve known him, and he’s always enjoyed them,” the younger Fertitta said.
Mickey Fertitta, once known locally as a restaurateur but primarily in the real estate business today, is backing his nephew financially to help him realize the dream, and to get a classy cigar every now and then.
“They won’t start him off with a huge salary over there (in Tuscaloosa),” Mickey Fertitta said. “He’s not going to be on the Forbes List of the wealthiest people in the country. So I hope this will give him a boost with his finances. And we’re both kind of pursuing a dream, me longer than him, a long-term love affair with great cigars. That’s been a passion of mine for a long time. He joined me in that.”
Selecting the right cigars and creating a distinctive ring label for them were the major challenges, Patrick Fertitta said.
“I started researching different avenues, finding the different companies throughout the country that will do private labeling and private branding. Sampling the cigars - that was the really tough part, sampling the cigars,” he said. “I probably sampled 30 or 40 types, different blends and everything.”
He wasn’t kidding. Much like people who sample coffee or fine wines, it’s not the consumption that matters, but determining the elements that make what you’re consuming unique and memorable.
“There’s a process as far as taking the construction of a cigar,” he said. “Is it hand-rolled or machined? Hand-rolled cigars tend to be of a much higher quality. It’s not like filling wrappers with a machine. You’ve got someone with an expert eye who’s checking the wrappers before they put them around the filler.
“And you’re looking at the construction. How is the weight of the cigar in your hand? Is it spongy, or is it firm? Does it smell ‘off?’ Does it have an ammonia smell? That’s common with young tobacco. With more aged tobacco that ammonia smell fades away and you’re just left with more of that ‘tobacco’ smell. Then, of course, comes the lighting, the pre-draw when you clip the cap and you see if you’re even going to be able to take a good draw through the cigar. How easily does it light? And once you’re smoking the cigar, is it burning nice and clean all the way down, or are you getting runs, where it burns too fast along one side? That can indicate flaws in construction. And then the flavor. Is this a characteristic of the cigar? Is it a characteristic I think the people of Shreveport will like?”
Then the physical size and shape come into play.
“We settled on a toro size, one long enough that has a big enough ring gauge that it satisfies the most smokers,” he said. “Shreveport is interesting because I’ve noticed they do like to smoke cigars a little bit shorter, usually in the robusto size. But we went with the toro because of the cost of construction. You’re going to end up paying the same amount to construct a toro as you will a robusto, so why not get a little bit of the extra tobacco?
“These also take about an hour to smoke. And that’s another thing to look at: Is it burning too fast or too slow? Is it consistent? You have to smoke several of these cigars; you want that consistency.”
He finally settled on cigars that are hand-rolled in the Dominican Republic from natural ingredients there and in other central and South American nations.
“We used a Domincan long filler, and we used a Dominican binder,” he said. “The wrapper is a Brazilian Maduro wrapper leaf, and we used an Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrapper for the natural cigar.
“These cigars are what I would consider to be a super premium cigar, and we are selling them at a mid-range price. Nationally the best-selling cigars tend to fall into the $8 to $9.99 price range, and ours will fall into that $9.99 price range.”
Presales are taking place online at Fertitta’s website, fertittacigars.com.
“We’re getting our wholesale license, so we also will be selling to retailers in Shreveport and Bossier City,” he said.
After choosing the right cigar, he went after the designer label ring, which proved to be easier.
“Timothy Higgins, my cousin Lindsey Fertitta’s fiancé, worked in the video game industry doing graphic design for games like Call of Duty and Guitar Hero,” he said. “We spoke with Timothy and he said he was up to the challenge. That was definitely a big help. As for the design, we wanted it to have a Louisiana feel to it, so we went with an alligator. But we didn’t want it to be ‘cartoony,’ so we went with more of an anthropomorphic one. It looks like a real alligator, standing, with a menacing look, a cigar in his claw, dressed in classic vintage style with an Italian-America feel. We put him in a suit with a fedora and a cigar. The colors are purple and gold - you know why.”
The alligator has a name, too, one that ties in with Fertitta’s work.
“I thought it neat if I could put something in there that illustrates my ministry as well, and that’s how I came up with Christeaux, with the Louisiana spelling.”
And how does he reconcile a pastor selling cigars, which some religious people consider a vice and a sin?
“A lot of times, you’re taught the whole ‘don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance, don’t cuss’ thing, but God doesn’t see it that way,” he said. “Taking those things into an excessive place, where they replace God and they become idols, that’s where the sin comes in. It’s not a sin to have a cigar every once in a while, to have a glass of scotch every once in a while. He gives the joys of life to us to enjoy, also even to remind us of him.”
One person who plans to buy some Fertitta cigars is downtown businessman Conway Link. He tried to get Fertitta to bring the manufacturing end of his cigar business to his business at 206 Milam St. - before 1900, a home to The Times - since there is a history of cigar-making there.
“I probably will buy some, even though I don’t smoke,” said Link. “But I did have at least one cigar-maker in my building, by what I saw in the old city directories for 1917, 1918 and 1919.”
The two cigar makers he found were a Frederick Herbert and a Charles Francois, “manufacturer and importers of clear Havana cigars, private brand especially,” the entries read.
Both men appear to have left Shreveport for parts unknown by 1920.
“Who knows what happened to them,” Link said.
Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com
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