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Justin Shelton, a Beta Theta Pi and recent graduate from the University of South Carolina, started his own cigar company called Atlas Cigars right before he nabbed his diploma in May. Atlas specializes in cigars that are custom-banded with fraternity letters and emblems for events like tailgate, rush, or formal. In the short amount of time since launch, Atlas has picked up sales representatives at over 25 colleges from Michigan to Texas to Arizona, the idea spreading by word of mouth, and by representatives hitting up the tailgate lots on game days (the company offers a signature Gameday Blend).
When hurricane Joaquin wreaked havoc on South Carolina, Shelton and Atlas Cigars teamed up with Harvest Hope Food Bank to provide aid to his community. For the next two weeks (longer if the need remains), 10 percent of all proceeds will go towards relief efforts.
Shelton talked to TFM about turning his passion for cigars into a business, and how he’s giving back to his college town in its time of need.
How would you describe the taste of your cigars?
Our cigars are hand-rolled by some of the most skilled torcedors on the planet. They are produced in the same factory as some of the best cigars in the industry, such as Alec Bradley and Rocky Patel. After the blending and rolling is complete they are aged for a minimum of a year and a half before they reach the consumer. These are our three main blends:
Our Gameday cigar is by far our most popular. I designed it to be a cigar that’s nearly impossible to dislike. It’s mild enough for the most novice smoker, but has enough flavor to impress any seasoned cigar lover. The Brazilian Corojo tobacco pairs well with any drink and is a constant favorite at tailgates.
Our Breakfast Blend cigar is our lightest blend. It has a smooth and creamy Connecticut
wrapper that pairs well with coffee and is perfect for noon games.
Our strongest cigar is called the Discovery. It has a spicy Habano wrapper that goes well with bourbon, scotch, or after a steak dinner.The Discovery is kind of the big brother of the Gameday. Similar flavors, but stronger and with heavy hints of nutmeg and spice. It’s a very well balanced cigar.
We also do small batch, short-run cigars from time to time. These tend to be in smaller quantities and have more unique flavors and shapes. We only make a certain amount of them so when they’re gone, they’re gone.
What gave you the idea to start your own cigar company?
I’ve always loved cigars, but as I got older, I started becoming really interested in how they were made, the blending and rolling processes, and the industry as a whole. One thing I realized as I dug deeper into the industry was that the young professional, college student, and beginner markets were pretty much being ignored. No one was focusing on educating people about cigars. A lot of people think that cigars are only for old, rich, retired people. They also think that there is a ton of upfront cost associated with getting into cigars. We make it as easy as possible by providing water pillows that humidify your cigars until your next shipment, eliminating the need for a humidor. Really all you have to buy is a lighter and a cutter. That’s a pretty small investment to start a hobby.
Another issue I see constantly is that people try cheap, shitty cigars the first time they smoke and then they think all cigars taste that awful. We want to get to those people before they have that bad first experience and give them a phenomenal cigar at a fair price. We want to educate our customers, remove the perceived financial barriers, and take away the intimidation and pressure that comes with stepping into a well-established cigar shop for the first time.
You still live in Columbia, which was hit hard by Joaquin. How did the flood impact you personally?
Well, the office I work in was completely flooded and destroyed. The house I live in has permanently lost power in the back half of the house. We will need to get an electrician to come redo so wiring. My closet sprung a leak, some of our plumbing is screwed up and we didn’t have drinkable water for 2 weeks. All in all I was very fortunate though.
There are areas of the city that still have water in them. Some people’s homes were washed away overnight, destroying everything they had worked for. It is a complete nightmare for some people. I really wanted to do some volunteering but I had to go back to work so I figured this was a way I could still get involved and give back to the place where I spent the best four years of my life.
To keep your humidor stocked for game days, and help out the reeling South Carolina community in the process, visit the Atlas Cigars website and sign up to receive cigars every month (the online payment process will be up soon, but for now, the site will direct you to Shelton’s email). Also, be sure to check out Atlas Cigars on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram..