by Jacob Steimer

On trips to Honduras and Cuba last year, two Memphis brothers spent weeks rolling cigars from dawn until dusk, learning the craft from a Cuban master.

“We rolled cigars every day like we worked in the factory. We woke up with the cigar roller in our hand and went to sleep with the cigar roller,” said Jason Gardner, 35.

BeLeaf Cigars founders, Memphis’ Antonio and Jason Gardner,

Thanks to that hard work, Jason and his brother, Antonio, 39, were able to grow their hand-rolled cigar business, BeLeaf Cigars, out of their Airstream trailer to the point where they recently signed a lease for a permanent location at 4587 Elvis Presley Blvd. in Whitehaven.

If successful, the craft cigar shop, which the brothers plan to spend $80,000 building out, could give a boost to retail in a neighborhood currently dominated by lower-end retailers.

“The shop is going to be a one-of-a-kind shop. It will take the focus of craft beer,” Jason Gardner said. “It’s Memphis’ first cigar company focusing on blending the cigars on-site.”

Gardner, who grew up in Whitehaven, works for ServiceMaster Global Holdings Inc.; his brother is a nurse at Regional One Health.

A few years ago, though, they realized they could turn their passion for cigars into a profitable business.

“One day, I said, ‘Hey, we spend a lot of money on cigars; let’s find out a way to make some money,'” Jason Gardner said.

From there, the brothers started bringing their hand-rolled cigar service to weddings and events and committed themselves to learning the craft better. The trips to Honduras and Cuba, along with an increasing demand for their products, propelled them to secure the Whitehaven property.

Jason Gardner

“Everywhere we go, people are asking us, ‘Do you have a location? Do you have a location?'” Jason Gardner said. “[We chose Whitehaven because] we want to cater to Graceland tourists … and we also sensed a need in the neighborhood.”

Antonio Gardner

The brothers considered Midtown options, as well, Gardner said, but were pushed away because of the proximity to other cigar retailers.

The Gardners represented themselves in their lease. The Shopping Center Group’s Dustin Jones and Shawn Massey represented the landlord, Bangor Holdings.

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