They might have competition from a few local businesses that offer hookah, but that didn’t stop two local entrepreneurs from continuing to capitalize on late-night hangouts. Brett Cromeri, who is an employee of the LIT smoke shop, is looking forward to the new portion of the store, which will be a hookah lounge. The new hookah lounge will be opened by Romi and Keith Mawardi.
“Hookahs have always been a big part of the owners,” said Cromer, who will be managing the LIT smoke shop. “They’ve had two years of experience with hookah venues.”
Dan Mawardi, who is the younger of the three Mawardi brothers, said he sees no need for his brothers to check out their competitors, such as Meridian Hookah Lounge, King Tut’s Lounge and Natura Coffee and Tea.
“I am not worried about them,” Mawardi said.
Cromer was as confident as Mawardi.
“We’ll have better tobacco and hookah than Meridian,” Cromer said.
LIT, which will be open 11 a.m.-4 a.m. seven days a week, will rent their Mya Saray-brand hookahs for $12 a person with free Starbuzz or Fantasia brand tobacco all day. Groups can share a hookah for $15, which can be split among the guests. As smokers use up their charcoal, a small fee will be charged for more Three Kings brand charcoal. An all-you-can-smoke special will be available everyday throughout the day instead of just a few days a week.
LIT will also rent hookahs for half off from 4 p.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Meridian, which Cromer said is their primary competitor, is open 8 p.m.-3 a.m. seven days a week.
Cromer estimates LIT will have about 40 hookahs and 30 different flavors available on a daily basis including Fantasia brand flavors like Incredible Hulk and Purple Haze, Starbuzz brand flavors like Code 69, Blue Mist, and classic flavors like apple, strawberry and cinnamon.
Cromer said the bar area will serve soda, energy drinks and tea instead of alcohol.
Dan Motter, an employee of LIT for several months, said they are setting up a sound system throughout the entire building to play the clients’ choice of music.
The sound system will be connected to at least five LCD TV screens, including those in a private movie room, where clients can watch movies or TV instead of listening to music. This set-up will allow employees to simultaneously play music and movies, or pick one to play throughout both parts of the building.
Motter is looking forward to the opening of the lounge and working there in addition to the smoke shop.
“I’m excited,” Motter said. “There’s going to be so much to do here.”
Motter said in addition to the entertainment system, there will be free WiFi, a popcorn machine, nightly movies and board games available.
Although they won’t serve alcohol, Cromer said he isn’t worried because hookah smoking has becoming such a dominant trend in college towns, mainly because of the social aspect.
“It’s relaxing, delicious and social,” he said. “It’s good way to enjoy yourself without drinking. When I smoke, I always have at least one other person to smoke with.”
Nick Cooper, an employee at Meridian, shared similar views about college students’ fascination with hookah smoking.
“It’s a social endeavor,” Cooper said. “Our clients tend to be the quieter types, and coming to hookah lounges is a way they network with other students.”
Cromer and Cooper both acknowledge that smoking isn’t healthy, but had different justifications.
Cooper said Meridian’s use of the most natural types of charcoal removes some of the risks that come with smoking hookah.
“We try and keep the process as natural as possible,” he said.
Cromer said experiments that have found hookah smoke to be just as harmful, if not more harmful, than smoking cigarettes fail to replicate the actual smoking process.
“In the experiments I’ve found, they would burn the tobacco instead of the molasses or honey that is used in premium tobacco,” Cromer said. “When it comes to hookahs, you are vaporizing the molasses or honey. I feel it is better for you because, for me, I cannot handle cigarettes, but I can smoke hookah. Hookahs are a bit better for you.”
LIT is opening its hookah lounge after the tax increase on flavored tobacco, which includes shisha tobacco.
Cromer and Cooper both feel confident that the Florida tax will not put an end to hookah lounges. But the proposed Tobacco Tax Parity Act of 2010 (H.R. 4439), which would increase taxes on the hookah tobacco by 775 percent, would eliminate hookah lounges because of the high price it would cost to rent a hookah.