You don’t get a nickname like “Cigar Mike” by being a novice. As a cigar consultant, event coordinator, and aficionado of all things cigars, Mike Bennett has been an ambassador for the cigar life for 26 years. With nearly 1000 events under his belt, his legend is building. Bennett lives to his name and talks about smoking as an experience, looking for maniacs in the industry, and creating all the elements of a successful cigar event.
Cigar Mike Bennett’s First Premium Smoke
Cigar Life Guy: Tell me about your first premium cigar experience.
Cigar Mike Bennett: I was at a buddy’s place; it was springtime. There were four of us. It was a double-date situation. We were hanging out, and my first premium cigar was a Don Tomas. So Don Tomas was my first foray into smoking premiums and just smoking, period.
I think I enjoyed the experience maybe a little bit more than I enjoyed smoking the cigar. It just continued from there. I started smoking occasionally. Then I found more occasions to smoke, and then bam, I smoke every day.
Cigar Mike Bennett: The Nickname
Cigar Life Guy: A straightforward and authoritative nickname like “Cigar Mike” must be well-earned. So how did you get it?
Cigar Mike Bennett: Well, I smoke a lot. That’s one way. The other way is I do a lot of cigar events. At one point, I was doing 110 events a year just working inside the industry.
But I actually got the name from a buddy of mine, Cedric Ward. I was hanging out at a cigar spot and introducing myself, and Cedric said: “Man, that’s Cigar Mike; you want to know something about cigars, ask him.” So we joked it off. And a week or so later, we were in a completely different spot with another set of people, and I was talking, and guys were like, “Oh, that’s Cigar Mike.” From there, it took on a life of its own. So someone heard it in the first spot, and then it took on a life of its own.
The trouble is living up to it (laughs). But I’m pretty good at that.
Mike Bennett: Cigar Ambassador
Cigar Life Guy: You are an ambassador for the cigar life. What do people who don’t smoke cigars not understand about cigars and the cigar lifestyle?
Cigar Mike Bennett: That’s an excellent question. The first thing is the misconception that it’s an old man thing. That you have to be 50 to smoke a cigar. I’m 51, and I’ve been smoking for 26 years. I started when I was 25, and it was a peculiar space because 25-year-olds were looking at me like, “What the hell are you doing?” And 45-year-olds were looking at me like, “What the hell are you doing?” (laughs).
I realized it was a microcosmic environment that people not in this world don’t completely understand. Once in the cigar world, it was like, ok, I’m a kid, and I’d get, “Look at the young fellow.” But there was a lot of information that was given. Guys asking, “Have you ever had this?” Or “Do you want to try this?”
We’re a welcoming world once you decide to be a part of it. But, unlike other worlds, we don’t solicit and encourage. Instead, we don’t go out and say, “Hey, Smoke Cigars. You’ll have a great life as we do.”
No. If you want to smoke cigars, then sit the hell down and light one up and let’s talk about it. That’s a big thing. We don’t care if you don’t understand; it’s if you want to understand.
Finding the “Maniacs”
Cigar Life Guy: You work with many new and up-and-coming brands. What do you look for in a brand to work with? And what advice would you give to someone considering launching a new business in the cigar space?
Cigar Mike Bennett: I look for maniacs. You’ve got to be a maniac to be in this space. You must be a function of pure passion and really want to be here. That’s what I am looking for. I ask myself, is this guy or young lady really committed? They’re really committed to doing this because you’re not gonna make a lot of money upfront.
You don’t jump into this business and become Rocky Patel or Pete Johnson. An overnight sensation in the cigar business takes about five years! That’s how long it takes for people to know who you are. So I look for people who really want to put in the work. I didn’t have a car when I was doing 110 events a year. Instead, I was catching the bus to my events, cabs, or Uber. If you’re unwilling to put in that, then it’s not much of a conversation. The fly by night: “I’m gonna be in the cigar business?” I wish you luck, but there’s really nothing I can do.
Cigar Life Guy: You have lived the cigar life for over 25 years, and your hustle is legendary. How many events do you think you’ve done? And how has it changed over the years?
Cigar Mike Bennett: I’ve been doing events for fifteen years. If I had to guess, I would say over 500, less than 1000. I would do some stuff every week — weekly and monthly events and everything in between. Events change, I don’t want to say dramatically. The numbers have grown.
I make it a point not to change my business model because I always want to be welcoming to somebody new to smoking but still endear the event to everyday smokers. These guys have been smoking for three, 10, and 15 years. So I want to be that common ground where everybody can exist and still get information. I call it cigar entertainment. I want you to be educated and entertained.
You don’t need someone saying, “This is this” or “That is that.” Nobody wants to sit in a classroom, and very few people want to take that class(laughs). But it speaks a little better if you’re having fun and you pick up on this information. That way, it’s manageable. So you come here, and it’s not, “I’m gonna get all this information.” If you want to sit and smoke a cigar. So be it. You give people fun facts, and they can do more research on that if they wish.
It’s the same thing with spirits. I like merging the cigar and spirits world. Because they do go together. Whiskeys and cigars. Cocktails and cigars. I try to bring in different elements. I’m actually doing an event with the owners of Greenwood Whiskey later today. They’re gonna be hanging out with me at a cigar lounge, and we’ll be sampling the whiskey with a cigar. Which is great — to have a whiskey you’ve never tried before and maybe a cigar you’ve never tried before. And the experience ties it all together.
The fun of it is in the journey. When people decide they want to be a part of the cigar life. You’re around people who are typically highly educated from all walks of life. A trash collector is sitting next to a CEO; they’re best friends. This is one of the sole environments where that happens daily. But, hey, we’re all here to smoke cigars. I don’t care what kind of watch you have. And I don’t care what type of cigar you smoke.
Fellowship means a lot because people leave their daily grind and want to kick back, spend ten or fifteen dollars on a cigar, and light it up. You want to enjoy that while avoiding talking about work. Be a regular person in a chair enjoying a cigar. You want to be around people you enjoy because if not, you can go home and smoke in your garage.
Endearing Customers to a City
Cigar Life Guy: Over the last few years, there has been an influx of new cigar events with varying degrees of success. What are some of these new entrants or promoters doing well? What are they missing or getting wrong?
Cigar Mike Bennett: They’re really going above and beyond entertaining their customers — anything from comedy shows, concerts, and events taking place during their cigar week for their city. That’s great. I’m not opposed to it but I don’t want to see River Dancing (laughs). I’ve watched it on YouTube occasionally. It’s interesting, but people are doing things and want to do something to endear people to their city.
I was in Houston, and they had a Scarface concert. What better representation of Houston, Texas, than Scarface? I’ve been on boat rides that were part of events from the National Harbor. Different things attach people to their city. And that’s what I like. So I go to New York for a New York state of mind, and I go to Miami for a Miami state of mind. So I want to do what people who live in that city like to do. Because if they’re enjoying themselves, consequently, I’ll enjoy myself.
I really enjoy being part of a lot of events. For some reason, people like me and trust me to entertain their crowds. And I’m really appreciative of that as well.
Signature Event Expectations
Cigar Life Guy: What should people expect at your signature event, the 2023 Atlanta Cigar Experience?
Cigar Mike Bennett: Honestly? Tomfoolery. Foolishness. A great deal of smoking and copious amounts of beverage consumption. We stuff 17 events in seven days, and foolishly, this year, we added a golf tournament — so 18 events in seven days. I want you to have as much fun as possible in my city. Literally, from noon every day till three in the morning, I got you. There’s something to do. No matter what time that plane lands, there is something to do. I want people to have a good time, enjoy themselves, go home, and return next year.
Photo credit: Cigar Life Guy