Governor’sCigar and Pipe
article by Mary Napoli | photos by Joli Livaudais
The most congenial cigar smoker and tobacco connoisseur in town is Friday Ellis, proprietor of Governors Cigar and Pipe. The establishment, located at the corner of Oliver Road and Forsythe, has a modern feel with old school sensibilities. Governors is new to the scene, but has many locals talking. It’s the place to go to find a top-notch selection of fragrant loose tobacco, pipes that have been hand carved in far away lands, high quality lighters and cigar clippers, and a distinguished selection of cigars chosen by Ellis, whose discerning palate and vast knowledge of cigars is quite remarkable.
Friday Ellis is something of a throwback to a more genteel generation. Dripping with old Southern charm and a door’s-always-open disposition, it is hard to believe Ellis has ever met a stranger. He has a gift for gab and an appreciation for craftsmanship and quality that are not often found in folks his age. Although in his 30s, he can spin a comical tale much like your grandfather might. Perhaps this has something to do with his tightly knit relationship with his father, Oliver “Friday” Ellis, who raised his son in Rayville.
Ellis says with a soft smile, “He and I were cut from the same cloth. We were really close. Me and that man were down like four flat tires. He was such a character…a charmer and a true Southern gentleman. ”
Ellis’ memories of his late father partially served as inspiration when it came to finding a name for his business.
“One of this things Louisiana is known for is its colorful political history, our governors in particular. My dad was an old Southern Democrat and loved his photos with Edwin Edwards. When I came up with the name “Governors,” the associations were endless.”
Upon entering the cigar and pipe establishment, a black and white photo of Huey P. Long smiling with some pals is on display. Ellis plans to continue to fills his walls with other behind the scenes photos, but it is what he has in mind for his own line of cigars that is most interesting.
“The first cigar I would like to create will be named the “Kingfish,” after Governor Long. What do you think of when you think of him? Huge personality. I want to use a big, bold Nicaraguan, spicy tobacco. Another cigar would be named for Governor Jimmie Davis, who always makes people think of “You Are My Sunshine.” For that cigar, I would use a sun grown wrapper,” Ellis explains with excitement. It is obvious that his enthusiasm and passion for the product, as well as his creativity, is limitless.
Cigars are not a temporary fascination for Ellis. After completing his service with the Marine Corp, he moved to Kansas City with his beautiful wife, Ashley. As fate would have it, Ellis happened upon a man who was an experienced cigar enthusiast and took Ellis under his wing and further developed his interest in tobacco.
“In Kansas City, I met a guy who hand rolled cigars and sent them out all over the country for establishments to use as their house cigars. That is where my real education began. He taught me so much about the process and how to actually roll cigars,” says Ellis.
He claims to still be an apprentice, but his knowledge on the history of tobacco and the art of harvesting, aging and rolling tobacco is incredible.
“Its an educational process,” explains Ellis. “I feel about cigars the way some people do about wine. It all starts with a grape seed or a tobacco seed. The tobacco seed takes on the qualities of the soil and water the same ways that the grape seed does. The flavor begins to develop the moment that seed is planted.”
He eloquently explains how each tobacco leaf has its own particular flavor profile and that the combination of various leaves is what gives each cigar a particular taste. Layers of flavorful leaves are blended to impart notes of oakiness, spiciness, sweetness or bitterness, among others. Ellis seems to know nearly everything about each cigar he carries and is happy to educate his customers on how the different sizes and shapes effect the flavors of the cigars.
“Notice how the caps are differently shaped?” he says, pointing out the end of the cigar that the lips touch. “Some are more pointed, some are more rounded. It’s the same as the opening of a wine glass–the shape affects the flavor.”
This astute knowledge allows him to be able to expertly recommend cigars for his customers. This keeps them coming back, but it’s not the only thing. Not long after opening, Ellis created the idea of offering “premium memberships” to the smoking room, located in the back of the building. It’s a “man cave” of sorts, rustic and welcoming with comfortable furniture and a large screen tv. The exclusive membership has tempting privileges, which includes 24 hour access to the spacious room.
“Last weekend, it was standing room only,” says Ellis. “One of the guys suggested I start carrying milk and bread, so he would have another reason to stop in on his way home.”
Governors is quickly gaining popularity, and Ellis has his own ideas why.
“I carry pipes, cigars and tobacco, but what I really sell is an experience,” says Ellis. “Cigars are conversational by nature and are a rite of passage in some cultures. We also use them to celebrate special occasions. The other day, I had a young man bring his grandfather in for his birthday. They sat in the back and shared a cigar and talked and talked. That’s a conversation they will always remember.”
Like the product he sells, Ellis is also conversational by nature. He welcomes each of his patrons like old friends and is happy to share amazing and amusing experiences he has had since opening Governors.
“I’ve got enough stories from the last two weeks that I would have never dreamed of happening,” says Ellis with a charismatic smile. “It’s those kinds of things that let me know we are here to stay.”
Stay up to date with Governors on their website, www.governorscigar.com. They can also be found on facebook, twitter and instagram, or keep it old school and dial 318.355.9869.