Kevin Brown entered the cigar industry by opening Tampa’s first Black-owned cigar lounge. He launched Konscious Cigars in 2019 and never looked back. Kevin talks about bringing his vision to life, diverse ownership, the Tampa scene, and igniting “Konsciousness” in the cigar world.
The First Premium Smoke
Cigar Life Guy: Tell me about your first premium cigar experience.
Kevin Brown: I can’t quite remember my first premium cigar. I remember when I smoked them and the people I learned with and from. So around 2008, when I started smoking cigars seriously, I would hang out at a lounge in Tampa called The Cigar Castle; this is where I learned the basics of cigar anatomy from my brothers like Ira, Tracy, and Squire. These guys provided a wealth of knowledge. As I kicked it there, I would learn so much from them and others like Dave and Dennis. At some point, we would order boxes of Cubans and various cigars. We discussed each blend as well as what to pair it with. I am greatly appreciative of this era of my life.
Konscious Cigars Beginnings
Cigar Life Guy: What did you do before you entered the cigar industry? How long have you been in the cigar industry, and tell us what drew you to the tobacco industry?
Kevin Brown: I have been a UPS employee since 1997. I went to technical school in 2000 and started my first business in the haircare industry in 2010. These were my accomplishments before I entered the cigar industry. I’ve been in the cigar industry since 2016. Several partners and I opened Tampa, Florida’s first Black-owned cigar lounge called Maduro Marauders Cigar Lounge; this was my entry into the cigar industry. People from all walks of life would stop by, and as I traveled to different cigar functions, I would meet industry folks, consumers, other lounge owners, and various industry entrepreneurs. In 2018, I traveled to Nicaragua and visited the Karen Berger factory to blend my first cigar, the Habano Robusto and Lancero. I officially launched Konscious Cigars in December 2019.
Cigar Life Guy: What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an upstart brand and in the tobacco industry?
Kevin Brown: My initial challenge was finding the proper business people to bring my visions to life. As an example, my logo is riddled with messages. The first few companies I contacted needed help putting my ideas together. I eventually found someone who could pull it off. So, I tell new band owners (if they ask for my advice) to search for what fits and feels right for their vision. Don’t let anyone talk you into something that doesn’t fit your spirit.
Once everything started to flow smoothly with Konscious Cigars, I was denied by a couple of lounges because my cigars were in bundles, not boxes. They made me feel as if I wasn’t professional enough without boxes. I couldn’t be a part of their lounge until I had them. So I leveled up and started creating boxes, and then I could jump that hurdle and not have that issue anymore.
Konscious Cigars and Embracing Diversity
Cigar Life Guy: As a Black-owned business, you said that representation is essential. How has the cigar industry embraced diverse lines from owners with diverse backgrounds?
Kevin Brown: From my perspective, I must say that many have embraced Konscious Cigars overall. And I’m sure that’s due to others from diverse or black backgrounds who have kicked the door in before I got here. I will always shout out folks like Karen Berger Cigars, Tres Linda’s, Epic, Gto, Carolina Blue, Black Star Line, Howard G, Drunk Chicken, Vorieo, and LA Viuda Negra Cigars.
Konscious Cigars: The Tampa Scene
Cigar Life Guy: What is the inspiration behind the name Konscious Cigars? What makes them unique, and how do you want the cigar world to view your line in terms of branding?
Kevin Brown: Coming from the Konscious “Kommunity,” I found it easy and inspirational to transfer that mindset to the name of my brand. Konscious Cigars are unique in their blend, and that’s flavorful, meaning you can notice and taste the notes correctly. They are not harsh or rough on the palate. You can make them “The Everyday Smoke.”
The Konscious Cigar brand is considered “Konsistent,” Premium, Quality tobacco. We pride ourselves on this.
Cigar Life Guy: You are from the Tampa area. What is the cigar scene like there, and how does it compare to other cities nationwide?
Kevin Brown: The Tampa scene is wonderful. We all will support each other until the wheels fall off! If you’re reading this and you’re not from here, come down to the Cigar Capital and witness our “Kulture.” We love to celebrate each other. It’s common to see lounge owners from Chaney Cigar and Loc’d on Cigar visiting each other’s lounges. Or the guys from Just Cooling Mobile Lounge are wearing a hat from Easy All Day Mobile Cigar Lounge. Or Off the Hook mobile lounger or Kress Apparel wearing a Brown Eyed tee shirt. They all hang out and support each other. I’ve seen this level of support in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Charleston. I would love to see it everywhere.
The Future and the Black Smoke Awards
Cigar Life Guy: Konscious Cigars was ranked number one as Cigar of the Year at the Black Smoke Awards 2022. What was that recognition like, and what is next for Konscious Cigars?
Kevin Brown: It feels awesome to be awarded the Cigar of the Year from Black Smoke two years in a row (2021 and 2022). I’m very humbled by it because people voted on it. It means a lot to be respected by your peers and those who purchase your products. So, thank you to Tobacco Kennedy, his vision, and everyone who voted and “kontinues“ to support Konscious Cigars. We truly thank you!
Cigar Life Guy: Have we missed anything? Please tell us anything else you’d like the cigar world to know.
Kevin Brown: Always check our website, Konsciouscigars.com (events) tab for event updates. We were delighted to be at PCA earlier this month.
On September 1, Konscious Cigars will be at Fire and Smoke in Baltimore, Maryland, doing a Kut & Light. Our Brand Ambassador, Keya Watts (@smokeybossqueen), will headline this event. Hope to see you there so you can ignite Your “Konscioussness” with us.
Image credit: Konscious Cigars