Here are three facts you may not know about cigars.
The best cigars in the world are no longer made in Cuba, but grown from Cuban-seed tobacco in Nicaragua.
You can buy a world-class cigar for less than $50.
The best place in Northern Mississippi to get those unique, premier cigars while leisurely relaxing with a smooth cocktail or brew; perhaps a friendly poker game; and surely some of the most stimulating conversation you’ll find in Oxford is at PJ’s Plus Cigars on University Avenue in the Kroger’s shopping complex.
Fact is, owner Doug Kyser and general manager Bennett Windham have created an oasis of excellence when it comes to fine cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco products.
“We don’t just sell cigars here, we like to talk cigars and our highly informed staff can guide even a novice cigar smoker to the right product,” explained Windham, PJ’s general manager and former Ole Miss classics major.
That’s right, a businessman with expertise in Latin and Greek languages and ancient Roman history. “I’ve always been in love with history, particularly ancient history,” said the Mississippi native. “I wouldn’t trade my experience studying classics at Ole Miss for anything in the world. It was a hugely rewarding, life-changing experience — not only as an education to guide my career choices, but as a constant passion in my life.”
Windham has a lot of passions — but cigars may approach obsession status with the soft-spoken Ole Miss grad. Take the difference between small and Soprano’s style stogies. “Big cigars are a market- driven product that actually are put together with more filler,” he said. “Traditional cigars are smaller with lots of flavor complexity. True cigar smoker like smaller cigars but the bigger cigars can be a popular item that some people like to be seen with. Here at PJ’s, we sell mainly small-batch cigars of superior quality.”
Back to the Cuban connection, Windham concedes Cuban cigars used to be the best in the world, but today Nicaragua is at the top of the Cigar pyramid. “We’d love for the Cuban market to open up again for American,” he said. “Right now they (Cuba) offer an inferior product with Spain as their main source of demand.”
PJ’s does just fine with its diverse supply of hand-made cigars, largely from Nicaragua, but also including aromatic tobacco blends from Brazil, Honduras and even American states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Connecticut. Windham is plainly proud of the PJ’s operation, and he says the store is one of only four to five fine cigar shops in the entire state. He calls PJ’s the “Flagship Fine Cigar Shop” of northern Mississippi. Cigars are stored in PJ’s environmentally controlled humidor.
The store originally opened as a traditional gift shop but owner Kyser became convinced of the allure of a fine tobacco shop in Oxford where customers have long demonstrated their appreciation for fine food, music and art.
“I didn’t know the first thing about cigars but I respected Ben’s knowledge and passion and I finally said to myself, ‘Why should a cigar or pipe lover have to go to Jackson or New Orleans to get a really great smoke?’ I trusted Ben to put this operation together and he’s done a fine job,” Kyser added.
A good enough job to attract the interest of a national magazine called “Smokeshop,” the industry authority on tobacco retailing. “In May they gave us a call and we thought it would be a small blurb in the magazine,” Windham recalled. “A month later we were the talk of the industry with a major cover story in the magazine. Suddenly, we’re nationally recognized as a rising regional voice in this business. That’s a big deal.”
Such a big deal that PJ’s now offers store memberships that include product discounts, invites to special product showings and a private locker where members store their tobacco products and accessories. But PJ’s offers discerning customers the ultimate gentlemen’s environment — two lounges with operating bars. A member can enjoy his or her favorite cigar, favorite variety of Scotch and the company of a growing network of friends for a game of cards or dominos.
“PJ’s isn’t primarily about cigars — it’s about people,” Windham said. “In our lounge we have Apple TV and Sunday ticket. We cater primarily to men, but we do have some serious female cigar lovers. And women love coming by the store to buy gifts they know will be appreciated. We’re the perfect shopping spot for the holidays or any time. Our members also enjoy reciprocal privileges with some of the finest cigar shops in the world including the oldest shop in the country in Chicago.”
And buying cigars, pipes or pipe tobacco at PJ’s is surprisingly affordable, Windham said. “Our average price is $10.50 for one of the best cigars you will ever smoke,” he said with the confidence of a young man who has brought a dream to reality. “You can purchase very fine cigars here in a range from $10-$12. It’s simply a myth that you have to pay $50 to get a good cigar.”
But if your tastes do run toward the more exclusive, PJ’s can accommodate you. Windham believes PJ’s well-trained staff and commitment to excellence will lead to even greater success. “Every day our sales and our memberships go up,” he said. “Our guiding standard is nothing less than a world-class tobacco shop — and we’re well on our way. Our future is more growth and the possibility of a new location with a bigger lounge. Our philosophy is if you’re going to do it, do it right.”
If you ask any of PJ’s customers if the tobacco boutique is doing it right, you get this kind of response:
“‘It’s the perfect place to relax and clear your mind after a tough day,” said PJ’s member and Oxford small business owner Chris Dicus. “My wife will be here shortly to join me. It’s like Cheers where everyone knows your name.
The whole world of fine tobacco products is quickly learning PJ’s name. You might want to stop by and see what all the fuss is about.
–Andy Knef is HottyToddy.com Managing Editor. You can contact Andy at andy.knef@Hottytoddy.com