“A place to come in and form a connection.” That’s how Courtney Crowson envisioned his ideal bourbon and cigar lounge. After plenty of research and some lucky timing, the Smoke & Oak opened in September 2021, offering a homey setting for folks to relax and socialize.
Crowson and his friends found relief from their pandemic isolation by gathering outdoors for long chats over cigars and favorite tipples. Inspiration struck, and Crowson set out to recreate that relaxed communal vibe on a larger scale by opening a bourbon and cigar lounge in Lexington, North Carolina.
Uptown Lexington is a historical district known for lively cafes and shops that appeal to locals and visitors alike. In 2021, Crowson scouted several possible locations and ultimately decided on a homey space that came along at just the right moment. “My friend was moving out with his family after a few years,” Crowson explains, “He approached me and said, ‘Come check our place out.’”
The airy, wood-paneled lounge is located smack in the heart of Uptown. It features comfy seating and has room for approximately 150 different whiskeys at the bar and two 4,000-count cigar humidors. Crowson’s shrewd selections allow him to introduce newcomers to the Smoke & Oak’s bounty while catering to his regular clients and their tastes.
“I wanted to maximize the biggest bang for your buck,” says Crowson. “Our filtration system’s top notch. We have a tobacconist who knows cigars like a sommelier knows wines. A lot of people who come into the lounge don’t smoke cigars. And some of those people are curious when they get here, when they have a bourbon or a cocktail in hand, they’re asking about our cigars.”
When it comes to selecting his business tools, Crowson is equally exacting.
“Every restaurant or bar that I would go in, I’d look at their point of sale systems. I’d see how easy it was transactionally. I would write those down and reach out to a rep and get demos for each of the point of sale systems. I demoed probably four or five POS systems before I made my decision.”
The decision to work with Clover is driven by pricing and personal experience. As a new business owner, Crowson can’t absorb a ton of extra fees and credit card expenses. Many of the systems he checked out were too costly, “I guess they’re used to being in bigger restaurants or places that would generate two-to-five times the revenue that I’m generating. The expertise of Clover’s sales reps made the process a pleasure.”
The Smoke & Oak team relies on Clover’s compact Go and Mini devices to run the business–from sales to inventory and payroll. In the spirit of transparency, Crowson ensures that each person is trained on as many tasks as possible using the POS devices.
“My bookkeeper loves it. It’s easy to pull up information, which helps my team stay focused on our revenues. All of them have access to Clover so they can pull up our sales reports. Everybody can be on the same page, and there are no hidden surprises or secrets.”
For Crowson, success in Uptown Lexington underscores his belief that people are yearning to reconnect and relax. His goal is to “work out the kinks” at the flagship, then expand to five more cities over the next five years, bringing the Smoke & Oak fellowship to a wider community.
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