Smokin’ hot

Ana and Pierre Perales

Ana (front) and Pierre Perales.

Ana (front) and Pierre Perales.

Photo By Kate Paloy

Ana and Pierre Perales met years ago and, discovering some key common interests, eventually combined their love of two Cuban specialties—salsa dancing and cigar rolling—into a lucrative business endeavor.

Now, the couple’s Casillas Cigars (7435 Madison Avenue in Citrus Heights) is more than a shop for stogie lovers, it’s a business built on heritage, where customers are often found lingering over a game of chess. The Perales, who have four children, often take their talents on the road, visiting wedding receptions and corporate parties, where he teaches clients how to roll cigars, and she gives dance lessons. It’s a success story built on tradition and romance—Pierre even named a cigar after his wife; the Carinoso (translated, it means “endearing”). Pierre Perales talks to SN&R about family, women who smoke and whether or not to inhale.

Do you grow your tobacco here?

No, it’s grown in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Ecuador. I go to Central America about twice a year. [I] knock on doors, bus my way up and down Central America. … Ya know, we are just the little guy. We bring back five, six, seven bales [of tobacco]. In the summer, you get the biggest blends, the bigger ring gauges. In the winter, you will get a lot of smaller [cigars], because people need a quicker smoke.

What effect does smoking a cigar have on you?

Smoking a cigar is like having a good friend. It consoles you, it [hears] you. In the end, it’s like losing a good friend because it’s gone.

Do you have a favorite cigar?

It’s just like [drinking] wine—it depends on what mood you are in, what you’re eating, where you are at and who you are with.

Do women smoke?

All of the time, yes.

Do you think the stigma of woman smoking a cigar not being seen as attractive has gone away?

It has definitely gone away. There’s a whole forum in magazines now called LIT—Ladies in Tobacco. Women have always been a part of the tobacco industry since the beginning. All of the cigar boxes from the turn of the century were decorated with beautiful women in dresses.

What would you suggest to someone who wants a nice cigar?

A good rule of thumb is that the lighter the color, the milder the smoke. So it depends on how you’re feeling as a novice. If you are feeling bold, then go for something darker.

Have you ever accidentally blended two?

We did. We blended a double maduro—a very, very strong tobacco with a light wrapper. Now, we have a customer for life who likes that. It became popular [with other customers], and we call it The Martinez.

Does your wife smoke?

She does. She rolls as well. We work together; the dancing and the rolling of cigars. It’s a fun little gig.

What do you say to your daughter and your son when they say “I want to smoke a cigar?”

When are they old enough—when they are 18.

With all of the health issues and concerns that go with smoking, do you encounter a lot of people who disapprove of what you’re selling?

There’s a big misconception [about cigars]. The cigar, our tobacco has nicotine in it, but [it’s got] natural levels of nicotine. It doesn’t have the exaggerated synthetic amount that a cigarette does. When you smoke a cigarette, you get that fat nicotine buzz. You don’t get that as much in a cigar, and you are not inhaling. [The cigar tobacco] doesn’t [have additives]; it’s not synthetic, and it’s not made in a lab.

What’s the toughest part of this whole process?

The taxes. [Cigars] are highly regulated. Customs and [dealing with] all of the importation and documentation [paperwork], permits, licenses, taxes and shipping.

Does tough take the fun out of it?

I was told in the beginning, when I started, when I decided to roll my own, that [some] people in this industry [will] give you samples of their best [tobacco], but then sell you the stuff that’s not so good. Once you buy and establish an account, the quality starts diminishing. It never fails.

I got tired of that, [and now I] go to these countries and get my own tobacco. Then we don’t have to worry about the quality.

Will you pass this business down to your children?

Yes, I would. I have bigger aspirations for them, but I would definitely, if they are comfortable doing it. I tell them, “Work hard. … When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”