He likes his Churchills.
"Love it," says Ken Pennington holding up a Churchill cigar as he gives a tour of a humidor where the cigars are kept at King's Cigar Lounge. "Dominican made. It's excellent."
The cigar is named after Sir Winston Churchill, comes in a number of brands, is typically around 7 inches long, and is known for a longer smoke duration. It's just one of many in the humidor.
Pennington, along with three other men, opened the only Black-owned cigar bar in the Flint, Mich. area. According to the quartet, the next closest cigar lounge is about 45 miles away from Flint, let alone Black-owned.
"We feel like it's extremely normal for a Black man or a Black group or Black women or anything else to own something that's substantial," said Pennington. "When we treat it as a common thing, it makes it more normal for everybody around us. We would be just as proud if someone walked in here and said what a great cigar bar."
Darnell Ruffin one of the four who refer to themselves as members, said he got the idea for a cigar lounge during a trip to Las Vegas. Ruffin was with another friend when he went to a cigar lounge for the first time and someone suggested he may want to open his own.
"He could not wait. He was going nuts about this," Pennington said. "This was pre-COVID too. Once the idea popped, there was a lot of time to cultivate the idea. It became a vision at that point. Not a goal just yet but definitely a vision."
According to a 2020 article in Cigar Aficionado, many cigar shops took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pennington said that their idea came during the pandemic giving them time to think about their strategy before opening a brick and mortar business.
"It kinda came from all of us talking," Ruffin said. "We kinda talk a lot on the phone. We are real good friends, more so brothers than friends."
They divided up the work with their other partners Will Gray and Jermaine Jones. They researched locations, licensing, cigars, and visited various lounges.
"One person would look for locations, look up the licenses...We all put our minds together. We group texted everyday man," Gray said. "At 6 o'clock in the morning, we were group texting. We took our time and we did it right. You're at the king's palace right now. Evidently, we did something right."
King's Cigar Lounge sits on a high-traffic street in Flint Township, Mich. Patrons can play a game of pool or indoor golf or rent the VIP room. It also has traditional amenities like a bar, sitting areas, and televisions.
"The biggest thing was the place. We had ideas where we really, really wanted to be," Pennington said. "I think Flint was the big goal for everybody. We really wanted to put it in Flint and make Flint the spot."
King's Cigar Lounge has become a hangout spot for local celebrities, athletes, and politicians. Ruffin said about 40 percent of their customers had never smoked a cigar before.
Since they opened, in February the lounge has had a steady flow of traffic. Their grand opening event was mid-March.
"They are in here because they either heard about it on social media or they drive by and wanted to know what's going on," Ruffin said. "We kinda just got a feel for people. All of us just have a knack or niche for people [and] understanding what they like."
Jones said he has really enjoyed seeing relationships and opportunities develop since they opened.
"I've seen so many people networking here. I've seen someone get offered a job in here," he said. "That's what it's all about. Us growing as a community and as a people. The networking has been amazing since we've been open."
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