Good cigars, good friends

That's what buddies who own a cigar shop in Wesley Chapel say it's all about: relaxing and bonding.

By EBONY WINDOM, Times Correspondent
Published January 17, 2008

WESLEY CHAPEL - Ted Whelan has no problem shelling out big bucks for a fine cigar.

For what some folks spend on a tank of gas, Whelan has bought a nice, fat stogie.

And it's worth every cent, he insists.

But, he doesn't go down to Tampa's Historic Ybor City district or overseas for a quality box. Instead, his favorite cigar shop is right in his own neighborhood.

And over the years, Whelan has become a regular customer at Torres Cigars.

It's a spacious cigar shop tucked in a Wesley Chapel strip mall, where many of the cigars are rolled by hand and range in price from $2 to about $34 each.

Seven years ago, Willie Torres of Lutz launched Torres Cigars off State Road 54. But, he also runs a cigar factory in the Dominican Republic where his own brand of cigars, Torres Cigars, are made and shipped all over the world. Juggling the two businesses was a lot of work.

So, last November, Torres sold the business to a pair of buddies who had been regulars at the cigar shop: Clark Trobaugh and Mark Gardiner.

Trobaugh and Gardiner are pilot pals. In fact, they both were pilots for AirTran Airways for years until Mark retired and became an aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration. Clark still flies for AirTran and they both work at the cigar shop in their time off.

Trobaugh has been a cigar lover since he was old enough to buy one. He says at 18, his Dad sat him down and offered him a fragrant cigar. It wasn't a special occasion like a graduation or anything. Just a chance to puff and talk with his Dad.

"(Cigars are) something you savor. It's not something you suck down," said Trobaugh, 34. "It's such a good time for bonding."

Gardiner, 54, on the other hand wasn't a big cigar guy until recently. It was Willie Torres who turned him on to cigars when he had stopped into the cigar shop out of curiosity one day.

Now, Gardiner says, "There's nothing like sitting down with a cigar and telling stories."

And that's exactly what customers come into Torres Cigars to do. There are oversized, leather couches, a giant-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. So, the customers, mostly men, sit down, grab one of the more than 400 varieties of stogies and talk politics or sports. Gourmet coffee is served, too. And there's talk of serving beer and wine, too, when the business' liquor license is approved.

And on certain days, a Cuban-born cigar roller comes in and rolls about 100 cigars by hand. People sometimes come in just to watch him roll, Trobaugh says.

And the entire store is like a giant humidor, because the temperature inside is set just right, so the cigars keep fresh.

But, "cigars age like bottles of wine," Trobaugh says. So some cigars, like the Padron 1964 anniversary cigar will cost a pretty penny.

Customers grab a cigar for special occasions like a birth or bachelor party. One man, who had just opened a motorcycle shop, ordered 8,000 cigars with his business' logo to use as a giveaway.

Torres Cigars sells and rents humidors, too.

When Whelan's friend got married three years ago, he went to Torres and bought the groom a box of stogies.

Whelan was a Torres Cigar customer long before the new owners took over. He became fast friends with former owner Torres, who still pops in from time to time. Torres also happens to live a few doors down from Trobaugh in Lutz.

"You know how some people buy a business because they can make a lot of money?" Whelan said when asked about the new owners. "That's not them. They're in the cigar business because cigars are a passion for them."



Torres Cigars is at 26246 Wesley Chapel Blvd. in Wesley Chapel. Call (813) 973-1166.