By BENJAMIN C. KLEIN
Sunday News Correspondent
Visiting at Castro’s Back Room cigar shop, Panos Panourgias, left, and Mike Eracleo enjoy some of their cigars while discussing how they started Gate City Cigars. (BENJAMIN C. KLEIN/Union Leader Correspondent)
NASHUA – While only in business for a year, Gate City Cigars is already starting to receive recognition for its custom, hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigars.
Mike Eracleo and his partner, Panos Panourgias, started Gate City Cigars after they met and formed a friendship at Castro’s Back Room cigar shop. After hearing that Panourgias was looking to start his own cigar business, Eracleo said he convinced Panourgias to let him in on the ground floor.
What started out as a local experiment is now about to go national, as Gate City prepares to release a national brand of cigar that will be sold in shops as far away as Texas.
“We want to put Nashua on the map, that’s why we named the company Gate City,” Eracleo said.
While not their full-time jobs, Gate City Cigars is their full-time passion. Currently, they offer a bundle cigar called the Calle Mayor that is sold in roughly 25 shops across New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Even if the business really starts to boom, the pair said they hope to keep the company a two-man team to keep things simple and loose.
“Everything we make from the company goes back into the company,” Eracleo said.
Panourgias said that the goal for the company in its second year is to produce 10,000 to 15,000 cigars and to gain access to new cigar shops across the country. However, he cautioned that some cigar companies produce more than 1 million cigars a year, and are still considered boutique brands.
“We have a long way to go,” Panourgias said.
A big key to the expansion of the business has been social media; so much so that Eracleo said Gate City Cigars might not be in existence without it. Before social media, Eracleo said he and Panourgias would have had to travel to cigar shops across the country and try to convince the owners in person to sell Gate City Cigar brands.
With full-time jobs and family obligations, traveling that much would be impossible for the duo, but with social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, important networking can be accomplished in a fraction of the time.
When the pair received the first box of cigars unbanded and unboxed, they had to band and box every cigar by hand, a tedious process that took months. Despite the hard work, Ercaleo said they wouldn’t have it any other way, as each Gate City Cigar Box is individually numbered and marked with the downtown Nashua zip code, 03060.
Designing their custom cigars was a difficult process Ercleo and Panourgias said, as they had to go through multiple batches of tobacco and leaf combinations before figuring out exactly what they are looking for. While experienced cigar smokers, when designing a cigar, Eracleo said he and Panourgias kept in mind that the public’s palate will differ from their own.
“I like a nice strong cigar,” Eracleo said, “but I understand that for many people they prefer a more mellow cigar.”
Speaking at Castro’s Back Room cigar shop, Eracleo and Panourgias said if it wasn’t for Castro’s, they would have never met, become friends or started a business together.
“That is what is so great about cigars and places like this, it lets people come together in a relaxed environment and be themselves,” Eracleo said.
For more information about Gate City Cigars, visit www.gatecitycigars.com.