Ashes, the Cigar Lounge, a Black female-owned shop, represents change in smoking culture

Yonneque Zeno
Yonneque Zeno opened Ashes, the Cigar Lounge—a Black, female-owned cigar lounge in Austin—in May 2020. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)

Yonneque Zeno opened Ashes, the Cigar Lounge—a Black, female-owned cigar lounge in Austin—in May 2020. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Zeno wants Ashes to be an inviting place the community can gather together an enjoy a cigar. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Ashes carries a variety of Black-owned cigar brands, including Definition Cigars. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Cigars are kept in a humidor, which keeps humidity levels steady. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
As a Black woman and the owner of a cigar lounge in Central Texas, Yonneque Zeno said she wanted Ashes, the Cigar Lounge to be a place that is open and inviting to all, including women, who Zeno said have traditionally been underrepresented in cigar culture.

While Zeno said she always knew she wanted to open her own business—honing her entrepreneurial and management skills in graduate school—and she said she never thought she would own a cigar lounge.

Zeno’s cousin introduced her to cigar smoking as a hobby, but she found many lounges felt like a man cave, and accessories tailored for women were hard to find.

“[That experience] turned into me wanting to create a space for ladies as well as males and create an environment and a homely feel where people can come together and feel welcome under one roof,” Zeno said.

Zeno said she tries to facilitate that environment through decor, including turquoise and gray walls, pink lighting, wall paintings of women and a bright chandelier.


The business features two main seating areas and a private smoking lounge, which is for Ashes Emerald Club and Ashes Emerald Plus Club members. In the center of the space is a humidor, the room where cigars are kept. This area keeps humidity levels between 69%-71% to keep cigars from drying out or getting too wet to the point they would not stay lit, Zeno said.

She said Ashes welcomes novice smokers, and existing customers welcome new customers like family.

Zeno said her aim is to make those who are not seen as typical cigar smokers such as women, younger people and different racial and ethnic groups feel more comfortable.

Furthermore, Zeno uses Ashes as a way to expose customers to cigars created by other Black business owners. She said she carries a mix of large, popular brands and smaller, boutique brands, including a lineup of Black-owned cigars other Austin-area lounges do not carry.

“I wanted to make our culture aware that there are brands out there that our culture has developed, and they are good cigars,” Zeno said. “You don’t have to have a Cuban to think that you have a good cigar.”

Ashes opened toward the beginning of the pandemic May 11, 2020—Zeno’s birthday. She said sales typically slow as coronavirus case numbers rise, but a core group of customers have sustained the business.

Cigars vary in prices from $4-$5 for a cigarillo to up to $30-$35 for high-end cigars. Likewise, the amount of time it takes to smoke a cigar can vary from 10 minutes to two hours, depending on the width and type of cigar.

“I want [Ashes] to be a place where you can come in and relax and enjoy yourself because cigar smoking is not a cheap hobby,” Zeno said. “If you are going to spend $20 on a stick and spend 45 minutes to an hour smoking, you want to be in an environment where you feel comfortable.”

Ashes, the Cigar Lounge

16009 FM 1325, Ste. 201, Austin

737-202-4340

www.ashesthecigarlounge.com

Hours: Mon.-Thu. 2-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 2-11 p.m., Sun. 2-8 p.m.



CREATING COMMUNITY

Ashes, the Cigar Lounge has two levels of its membership program that offer exclusive perks to customers.

Ashes Emerald Club, $400/year

• Access to private smoking lounge, the E2 Room, which has three big-screen TVs

• Rental of the E2 Room for private events

• 15% off all box purchases, 10% off all cigar and cigar accessory purchases

• Invitations to special events

• First dibs on in-store promotions and limited-release cigars

• Ability to bring your own beverages

Ashes Emerald Plus Club, $500/year

• All of the benefits of the Ashes Emerald Club

• Lease of a 12-by-12-inch private humidor locker with a personalized engraved nameplate and key
By Claire Shoop

Reporter, Northwest Austin

Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition and in December 2021 moved to Austin to become the reporter for the Northwest Austin edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.