The Winter 2016 issue features Ontario’s Village Cigar Company & Barbershop, founded by Ryan Baker and Jerry Filice. Check out this bonus interview with the owners of VCC&B.
Cigars & Leisure: Before you teamed up to start Village Cigar Company & Barbershop, what was each of your earliest experiences and memories of cigars?
Jerry Filice: My first memories are actually not entirely clear. I got into cigars in a couple of ways. Our close knit group of friends all wanted to try new cigars and experience new brands after having had a taste via vacations and travel. From there my experience grew as I traveled extensively prior to founding Village Cigar Company & Barbershop. I would have very busy days and I was always looking for ways to quietly relax when my business was complete. That led me to seek out local shops everywhere I went so to find both favorites as well as something new. The journey continues today.
Ryan Baker: Growing up, my dad always had the same box of dry cigars hidden behind the bar in our basement. I remember as a young kid “borrowing” one every once and while without him noticing. At the time, I obviously knew nothing about cigars and didn’t really enjoy them, but even then I had an interest in them and many years later I was re-introduced to cigars by a good friend of mine.
Where did the idea come from to combine a cigar store with a barbershop?
Filice: It’s not necessarily a new idea if you pay attention to the past. Barbershops and tobacconists have naturally always been comfortable gathering places for guys to relax, feel good and engage in conversation. Back before the overly oppressive heavy hand of the government and anti-smoking groups taking control, you’d often find a small humidor inside the barbershop. Gents were able to cut, light and enjoy a cigar while getting their hair cut and chatting with each other. These were great places for like minded individuals. This is what we aim to achieve every day. Although indoor smoking is completely outlawed, we offer that same feel and atmosphere. Our humidors are large, custom built walk-ins offering hundreds of options, and our barbers are as traditional as they get. For us, it’s a natural marriage, not to mention the fact they are two pieces of our personal lives that naturally incorporated themselves into our business. We also offer a great number of gentleman’s accouterments to round out the lifestyle. We carry hand made leather goods, classic timepieces and Red Wing leather boots. We pride ourselves in being a true gentleman’s lifestyle shop.
Your humidor is stocked with some of the top brands like Alec Bradley, Gurkha, Rocky Patel, and Davidoff. With so many new cigars flooding the market each year, how do you go figuring out what cigars to carry and what your patrons are going to enjoy?
Baker: In Canada, we get a very small percentage of the cigars that hit the American market but it still can be difficult to decide what to carry when the shelves are already full. Jerry and I are always researching and trying out new cigars and we usually do find room for most of the new introductions into Canada, especially if it is an addition to a brand we already carry. There is usually a pretty large time lapse from when a brand releases a new cigar and when it becomes available in Canada. More often than not, by the time it is available to us we have already tried it and so have many of our customers. If we have people coming in every day asking when we are going to carry a certain cigar, it’s an easy decision as it becomes available to our market.
Filice: We’re met with some unique challenges here in the Canadian market that also come into play when making decisions on new offerings. Canada isn’t the worlds largest market, and the reality is that we’re often serviced after the big markets and regions have been fully satisfied. It’s not unusual for us to have to wait 6 months to a year after the American release of a new cigar. Then there’s price. Our government makes a lot of money on tobacco. The tax portion of our retail price far outweighs what the retailer is making on each cigar. What you see as a new release in the USA at $8 – $12 most often arrives here in Canada anywhere form $21 – $50, which can be a little hard to take for the daily enthusiast. The bottom line is that we love premium cigars and if we could, we’d have humidors large enough to house every option in the market. Our clients can always count on us to be out there seeking out the latest releases and beating down our distributors doors to make those available.
Village Cigar Company hosts many cigar events for cigar enthusiasts. What sets your cigar-themed events apart from others in the area?
Filice: We do in fact host a lot of events. We do a minimum of one per shop every single month. For the most part, they are cigar themed although we have recently started to host events that speak more directly to other parts of our business including events with Red Wing Heritage and a November shave-down.
What makes our cigar events so much fun are our great partners. We’re able to offer incredible deals on event days where a feature cigar brand is highlighted. We generally bring in something special that you can’t normally find on our shelves, offer our clients the opportunity to purchase combination deals that generally allows them access to a cigar they likely haven’t tried in the past, or to add one of their favorites to the mix. We also team up with an alcohol sponsor for our events who set up mobile bars and offer free samples throughout the events. Craft breweries are some of our biggest contributors, and always a crowd pleaser. We’ve also incorporated live music into many of our events. The aim is to essentially create an atmosphere where good times are top of the list and from the feedback we’ve received and the continually growing crowds we believe we’re hitting the mark. We’ve got some new, fresh ideas in the works for 2016 so everyone is going to have to stay tuned!
Besides your stores, where in Canada should cigar enthusiasts visit in your opinions?
Filice: We hear this all the time, and truth be told it’s one of the main reasons we started this business–it’s tough to find a real, strong tobacconist in Ontario. This is a massive province with densely populated areas but for whatever reason a good tobacconist is hard to find. From poorly maintained humidors and cabinets, to shop owners that have forgotten that a visit to the cigar shop is an experience, not just a retail transaction. That being said, there are a few gems out there. Both of our shops are located west of Toronto and between there and the USA boarder. We’ve basically got you covered. On the east end of Toronto there’s a shop called Victory Cigars in Oshawa, and that’s a must visit. The owners Julian and Kevin are beauties. They are salt-of-the-earth cigar guys and are as welcoming as you could ask for. They also offer a great selection and never hesitate to fire up a cigar and chat.
Baker: My advice would be to search out cigar shops in your area or if you are traveling abroad, check out what shops you will be close to and drop by to experience as many as you can. Every shop is different and each has unique products and services. Eventually, you’ll find the shop that is right for you and hopefully build a relationship with the people there to keep you coming back time and time again.
For more, check out our guide to traveling in Canada.