The Great Smoke 2022 is in the books. This past Saturday marked the 16th annual The Great Smoke event, hosted by Smoke Inn at the South Florida Fairgrounds. With each year’s event taking on a unique theme, 2022’s was dubbed The Last Luau (as in, this was the last luau that you ever needed to attend). Host (and owner of Smoke Inn), Abe Dababneh, was sure to make clear that the event would continue on, with next year’s planning already underway and taking on a Mardi Gras theme for 2023.
Much was made of the successful pivot that the event had made in 2021, as the in-person version was canceled due to COVID-19 and turned into a late-night show-themed virtual event. The digital experience created access for thousands of cigar smoking fans to engage in the festivities and bear witness to a stunning lineup of cigar personality interviews, live comedy, and musical acts, as well as an extensive list of exclusive cigar releases made specifically for the show from a long list of the industry’s most prominent cigar brands.
With the return of live events in 2022, it was clear that there was a continued demand for the opportunity to take part remotely, as many advocated that the virtual event was a new opportunity for Smoke Inn customers and cigar smokers at large to enjoy the festivities without having to make the pilgrimage to South Florida. Abe and Smoke Inn determined that they had created something that could stand the test of time in the virtual event, and set out to combine this new digital experience with a traditional in-person multi-thousand attendee festival.
The virtual event was coordinated and executed by a professional video crew that brought all of the performances and interviews that took place on stage directly into the comfort of the virtual attendee’s homes.
With previous years being held outdoors, the general response to an air conditioned hall was very positive from both attendees and manufacturers alike.
The format was that of a traditional festival, with a main stage at one end of a massive hall. The layout included a bevy of alcohol sponsor booths as well as various other engagements, ranging from a barber booth to a massage chair station. Lining the sides of the building was a massive VIP seating area situated directly in front of the stage, with the cigar manufacturers booths end-capping the other end of the hall.
The entrance to the cigar company wing of the event was adorned with headline sponsor Drew Estate’s new activation booths for both the Tabak and Herrera Esteli brands. The Tabak booth was offering cuban coffee as a pairing experience with their coffee-infused line; there was also a lively welcoming area in the space housing the 40-plus cigar manufacturer booths and a selling station located in the middle of the hall. The Herrera Esteli activation booth consisted of a dart-throwing competition that resulted in the winning of one of the growing line of Herrera Esteli cigars.
Drew Estate Senior Brand Manager, An Phan, stated, “This is an exciting opportunity for us, as it is the first time we have executed our activation booths that were originally created for our Barn Smoker events at an outside event. We have learned a lot over the past two years about how to engage our consumers and want to give them a fun way to experience the individual brands within the Drew Estate brand umbrella.”
The $169 entry fee came with the inclusion of a coupon book for free samples from each cigar vendor, with attendees immediately lining up to collect and start their Great Smoke festival day. As the crowd moved past the tables, collecting their samples, cigar manufacturers welcomed the attendees and informed them of the cigars available for sale and of the many swag and promotional deals that they were each offering from their brands for the day.
There were hundreds of options for the box-buying public, ranging from free swag giveaways, discounted limited-time pricing, and in true Smoke Inn fashion, a list of event-only exclusives and limited releases.
Brand owner Pete Johnson stated that he has participated in every Great Smoke since day one, and has a strong connection with the event, as it began in the very early days of his own opening of Tatuaje Cigars, saying, “I am happy that Smoke Inn decided to keep the virtual element of the event, as it supports what this industry is about, which is community. This gives the chance for people who can’t make it down to still participate.”
With over two thousand in attendance, the event logistics ran as smoothly as I have seen in my 20-plus years of event production experience. From parking and signage indicating where to go on the fairgrounds’ massive property to ample seating, spacing, and cigar purchasing access.
A special surprise for the attendees that showed up early to wait in line was in store, as the uber-popular celebrity chef Guy Fieri was positioned in the front of the hall, signing boxes and making himself available for photo opportunities. The Great Smoke 2022 doubled as the launch event for his new collaboration cigar release with Espinosa Premium Cigars: Knuckle Sandwich.
Returning from last year’s virtual event was Cigar Dojo Cigar of the Year winner Michael Herklots (of Ferio Tego) and co-host Kim Keeney, emceeing and leading the day’s festivities alongside co-host Paul DeGrocco and show host and organizer, Abe Dababneh.
The day kicked off with Erik Espinosa and Guy Fieri introducing the Knuckle Sandwich and telling the story of how the project came together. Erik spoke to the nature of celebrity releases, and that he was clear with his long-time friend that he was only interested in the project if the chef was truly dedicated to making a cigar that he was willing to get behind and use as his entry point into the premium cigar industry. Guy has shown that he is fully invested in not only the cigar release but the industry as a whole, as he was also announced as a member of Cigar Rights of America.
This year’s entertainment was handled by the electrifying and talented performances of the Aloha Island Dancers, including traditional luau-themed drummers, hula dancers, and (to really drive home the festivities) a performance of fire dancers.
It was a fun-filled day for all, as many cigar industry members were in attendance along with the cigar smoking public, catching up over a cigar and beverage while taking in all of the festivities.
As has been customary over the past four years preceding the 2021 live show cancellation, on the eve of The Great Smoke, the fairgrounds also played host to the now-infamous Red Meat Lovers dinner. Hosted by Abe Dababneh and Evan Darnell, the 200-person event was a sellout spectacle centered around hundreds of pounds of braised meats and paired with the Red Meat Lovers limited-release cigar by Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust. Evan Darnell, president of the club, stated, “It was one of the most special dinners I have ever seen,” with over five thousand dollars being raised for the event charity. Darnell mentioned that the growth of the club’s now-over four thousand members is a result of this dinner, and ultimately the support of Abe. He also indicated to watch for news forthcoming, as they will be expanding with new chapters opening in added markets around the country soon. The event has raised over $700k through the dinners and accompanying auctions over the past four years.
Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust said, “The dinner was fantastic and the vibe was perfect. The newest variation of the Red Meat Lovers cigar release was well received as it was released with dual flat capped ends this year to mimic a beef stick.” Saka also indicated that there was a work in progress to make a national release of the ever-popular exclusive cigar in the future.
Portions of proceeds from the dinner, auction, and The Great Smoke event itself are dedicated to the Kids Cancer Society of South Florida.
This year’s experience again solidified that The Great Smoke is one of the nation’s best cigar events and, in this writer’s opinion, a must-attend for cigar enthusiasts.
According to Terence Reilly of Aganorsa Leaf, “It was the greatest day of our lives!”
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