Anu Amen-Ra has perfected the art of hand-rolling fine cigars, including nearly half a decade of trips to Cuba and working in the famous Trinidad factory in Havana, and turned it into a luxury service.
Amen-Ra is ready to make your next event classic, he says, especially with the $4,000 “Mecca of cigar experiences,” the Dreamer Luxury Cigar Experience designed for the quintessential gentleman or gentlewoman and a few close friends.
The service includes onsite cigar rolling and a custom private blend created for the client, including proper pairing, cutting and lighting.
He boasts weddings, socials, and company events as part of his cigar rolling repertoire.
Rolling tobacco into a cigar and smoking it is believed to go back to at least the Mayans. Those who roll cigars are known as torcedors.
“I enjoy helping the customer find their way,” said Amen-Ra. “I want to throw a monkey wrench into the situation and educate the consumer.”
Jon David Cole is the owner of the Country Squire in the Quarter on Lakeland. Easily one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continually running cigar and pipe tobacco shops in the state, Cole has turned the old pipe shop into a destination for tobacco lovers from all over, sending orders of the house blend tobacco worldwide. The shop recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in August of 2020.
In addition to being a good friend of Amen-Ra and the godfather to his two sons, Cole has seen Amen-Ra go from a first time smoker to one of his shop’s knowledgeable tobacconists.
“Anu has been a central figure in the Mississippi cigar community for the last 10 years,” Cole said. “One of his talents is bringing people together and creating energy but most of all he is a good person and people are excited to support him. He has been an important part of building our clientele here at the Squire.”
Amen-Ra learned the art of tabacalera straight from the source. Between 2016 and 2019 he took 27 trips to Cuba to learn how to hand-roll cigars. In that time he says he estimated plowed through $64,000 worth of tobacco before he could consistently produce a sellable product.
Amen-Ra grew up in the Presidential Hills neighborhood of Jackson and attended high school at Callaway. He graduated in 2010 and joined the military where he was on active duty from 2010 to 2013. He received his honorable discharge in 2019 as a Captain and received a degree from Jackson State University in 2016 in speech and communication.
“The military is where I first experienced cigars,” Amen-Ra said. “I saw the officers smoke and I had the ambition to be where they were. It was an environment I wanted to partake in.”
His now brother-in-law gave him his first cigar in 2014 at Churchill Cigar Shoppe in Jackson in a retail space on the west side of Smith Wills Stadium. Amen-Ra was hooked.
After graduation, he moved to Dallas and would travel between there and Belle Chasse, Louisiana, where he was stationed. In Dallas, he discovered D and B Cigar Corner run by Tim Davison, a Moss Point native.
The first time Amen-Ra entered the store he said Davison immediately saw his outfit and declared “I know this man is from the South.” It was not long before Amen-Ra started working in the shop. He was struck by the diverse clientele, free-flowing conversation and ready access to fine tobacco products.
Amen-Ra began keeping a tobacco journal — a practice he still maintains today — learning all the nuances of the cigars in the shop and noting the favorites of regulars. He soon decided he wanted to learn more and prepared for his first trip to Cuba.
“It reminded me of Back to The Future or Motown in the fifties,” Amen-Ra said of his time in Cuba.
On one trip he said he got a ride in an old Chevrolet Bel Air. Because of the United States embargo, many cars in Cuba are old pre-embargo cars that their owners have kept running through years of home brewed engineering.
He said another car pulled up beside them and the driver revved the engine. Before Amen-Ra knew it he was in the winning car of a Cuban street race.
During his time in Cuba, he rolled cigars at the Trinidad factory in Havana and spent his after hours under the tutelage of Ronaldo de la Cruz, who has since moved to the U.S.
In Cuba, he learned the fine touch required to hand roll dozens of cigars at a time. He said it is like an old family recipe that only a few people know how to make from years of making the same recipe over and over again.
‘My mom makes a broccoli and crawfish casserole that I have tried to make,” Amen-Ra said. “I have tried and failed miserably.”
He had to save and borrow for these trips and even had to dip into his military retirement but on May 31, 2019, it paid off. He released his first cigar line Dream Catcher.
Currently, Amen-Ra works at the Country Squire and does cigar rollings for weddings and other private events.
In April of 2021 he did a Kentucky Derby pre-party for event for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
“My favorite part, my absolute favorite part, is sitting down to show someone this cool craft,” Amen-Ra said.
At the rolling table, Amen-Ra’s light touch and deft fingers can kick a fresh rolled cigar out in no time ready to cut and lit and enjoyed. Onlookers’ eyes move between his handiwork and his smiling face as he explains each step in the process and what each piece brings to the cigar.
Building his brand, Amen-Ra has been able to mix his many interests from fashion to music. Future cigar releases he hopes to include a card in each cigar box that features drink recipes and music playlists to enhance the specific cigars in each box.
“It is a way to put my experience in a box,” he said.
This is a reflection of his own journals. He said the communal nature means he attaches cigars to the experience he had when they smoked them. Some log entries include details of his day or get into the specific meals he at before enjoying the cigar. His favorite is an H. Upmann The Banker, a cigar he first enjoyed with a friend in the military, his battle buddy, after a parachute jump in Texas.
Amen-Ra lives in Madison with his wife Latasha. They have three children that include his step-daughter Serenity, who at 11 years old can already roll a fine cigar, and his Irish twin sons Saint-Ermias, 2, and Chief-Kwamne, who will be two in July.
“He is an otherwise unlikely person for me to have connected with," Cole said. "But he is one of my dear friends and our families are close and I am thankful for that."
Future plans include a functional hand rolled cigar factory, a follow up location in the metro area and space for education.
Archaeologists place the human use and consumption of tobacco as far back as 12,300 years ago in Mesoamerica and spread to the rest of the world by European explorers. By 1542, the substance reached Asia when the Portuguese introduced the substance to Japan.
Throughout history, tobacco has been used for purposes that range from recreation to medicine to religious rites.
For more information on Amen-Ra, his cigar line or to book him for an event visit his website sartorialtobacconist.com