After two years of operating Executive Cigars, LLC., Andrew Lee continues to entertain and recruit a discerning clientele. “I’m going after the mature, educated, high-level professional and retired crowd,” he said. Throughout its existence business executives, politicians, religious officials, sports figures, musicians and what he considers sophisticated ladies have enjoyed the amenities of his establishment.
Located on the North Side at 630 Suismon St. on the edge of Interstate 79, Lee describes his place as Pittsburgh’s first African-American owned Cigar Lounge. He says it is a habitat where people frequent to network, to meet people and to bond. “It is a place to make business and personal deals. One of my regular customers met his wife here,” he said.
Lee points out that a cigar is attractive to busy people. “A cigar allows those with hectic schedules to take a mini vacation, to lounge and feel at home. It’s like being relaxed in your living room.” Using that analogy he says a cigar is to be smoked slowly. “It is designed to take your time to smoke leisurely taking at least an hour to enjoy. You puff and taste savoring the aromatic experience.”
Finally cultivating the two-story building into the facility of his desire, Lee classifies his business as the finest smoking lounge in the city and says he is one of seven African-American cigar shops in the country and the first in Pennsylvania. The first floor consists of a retail shop, a large walk-in humidor (designed to keep cigars humidified) and a lounge where customers can smoke, eat, watch television and he says, “make deals.”
The newly renovated second floor, which he stressed is available for special events, has a stage, a dance floor, a bar with a granite counter top and flat screen televisions. It has a VIP room with a fireplace, Black oriented artwork on original brick walls and comfortable seating. Caterers are available for use and renters are free to bring their beverages of choice.
Other than having a second level, Lee says what makes his Cigar Lounge unique is its variety of handmade cigars ranging in price from $5-$50, its varied customer and membership base and the events and activities held within the building. Events consist of the normal parties and receptions and Monday night Bible study. Lee said his goal is to be an event center holding a variety of entertainment affairs like live jazz and poetry nights.
One of 12 children raised by a single mother, Lee views his business and life as blessings from God. Now 44, he said while growing up in Beltzhoover he was a bad kid, a juvenile delinquent that by age 16 was sent to the George Junior Republic Juvenile Detention Center. “That experience saved my life,” he confessed. He graduated from South Hills High School, attended Robert Morris University and received his degree in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He said in 1988 he was addicted to crack cocaine, but thanks God for his life experiences. After working in corporate America and sales management for numerous years Lee said he felt the need to work with youth so he quit his job and began volunteering for a program sponsored by the former Mercy Behavioral Health System. Years later he became an entrepreneur when he opened a men’s clothing store and ran a real estate company until the housing market dried up. Returning to the traditional job market he became an advertising representative for a cigar shop and later became a cigar manufacturing representative where he was provided the opportunity to travel and to learn the business. Realizing that he could operate a cigar business on his own he stopped working for Oliva, purchased the building he operates Executive Cigars out of and as they say, the rest is history.
As the business grows, Lee said his goals are to become a prototype. “I’d like to own five companies within this region and then develop franchises in other states like New York, Florida and the District of Columbia.” Taking a minute to gather his thoughts he continued, saying, “My biggest goal is to break the color barrier within this industry. We are the most integrated Cigar Lounge around and that has to change.”
Defined as a tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco, Lee says most cigars are handmade from three wrappers, which is where the majority of the flavor comes from. “The smoker gets a blend of all three,” he said explaining that it’s an all-natural product that is not inhaled.
Looking forward to a bright future for his business, Lee said he is appreciative of his steady customers and people that have stuck by him like Melissa Simmons who labored with him from the beginning. “It is people like them that I can’t do without that makes Executive Cigars the success that it is.”