"I wanted to show people Black excellence. I wanted to bring the Black community together, and show people where there are dapper men," Debonair Cigar Lounge owner Antonio Martin tells EBONY. "You come into the lounge, there's jazz playing, it's smooth. It's a certain level of class, which isn't found often in LA. We're showing there are professionals beyond sports and acting; we're here."
A military veteran, Martin says he sort of stumbled into the cigar world. His business partner had a passion for sticks and slowly turned Martin into a connoisseur. Once Martin retired from the Navy and relocated to LA, he wanted to bring something different to the city's landscape. A need to fill a void for a more elevated vibe, he sought to bring what was missing.
"For man Black entrepreneurs here, their businesses are outside of LA. I wanted something in the middle of the city that was for us. Of course, there have been some challenges. LA and surrounding areas aren't big fans of smoking in general, so that was one of the biggest hurdles to get over. Not to mention, we're in a niche market. Not everyone smokes cigars, and we're in Cali, where marijuana is big. So, we really had to introduce them to cigar smoking."
According to Antonio Martin, the real key to his success in the space has been his team and the people around him. To other aspiring entrepreneurs, he emphasizes that being approachable and coachable are important to really grow any brand, because there will be times when you may not know everything that's right for your business.
"Don't take it as a negative," he shares. "You have to be willing to listen and learn. Often in the cigar industry, things tend to skew toward a certain demographic and they're successful. So you have to, at times, look at the things that work for them and implement that into your own brand. That way, not only are you pulling in your immediate community, but outside communities, too."
Within Debonair Cigar Lounge, the atmosphere is very inviting. You'll find warm, Earth tones merged into the decor. The team is also big on weaving in aspects of the cultures in which cigar making are found—Cuba and other Latin countries. You'll find photos of some of Black culture's greatest folks, like Richard Pryor and more. It's a very intentional move in hopes of paying homage to Black culture and history. Also, Martin curates the experience so that everyone walks away with having learned something.
"Outside of smoking cigars, I want to educate people. I want them to leave really knowing about the culture and see themselves in it. I always try to share the real origins of cigars and cigar rolling."
Seeing that not everyone likes cigar smoke, but more so the social aspect and networking opportunities involved, the Debonair team also hosts events in other venues and spaces across Los Angeles to ensure everyone feels like they are a part of the bigger community.