The Leaf and Bean Company: ‘Key West Meets Garage Sale’

By Maggie Pavlick

leaf and bean1

Photo by Aaron Warnick

On a warm day, the smell of roasting coffee and cigar smoke float out of the open front of the Leaf & Bean Company’s small but vibrant building on 22nd Street in the Strip. A huge, colorful mural of neighboring shops in the Strip covers the outer walls, and shaggy, island inspired umbrellas cover the tables.

Bits and pieces of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” trickle out from speakers inside, and a white board lists the day’s unchanging menu: “Coffee and Cigars.”

And that’s only the outside. Inside, customers are greeted by a suit of armor with a “Will Work for Cigar” sign, a skeleton riding a motorcycle suspended from the ceiling, an antique wooden bathtub-turned-fountain, and one of the last of a nearly-extinct breed of phone booths. They can choose a seat from the cushioned booths, high bar chairs or old-time barber chairs and admire the walls and ceiling, every inch of which are covered with delightfully random paraphernalia, while enjoying a coffee, a cigar, and the company of fellow members of a cigar-loving community.  It encompasses, as the employees describe it, the idea of “Key West meets Garage Sale.”

On Saturdays, singer-songwriters perform folksy, laid-back tunes.

Owner of another staple in the Strip, Deluca’s Restaurant, and long-time friend and patron of the shop, Drew Mikrut, considers the shop his second hangout and notes that the other regulars range from people with millions of dollars to people who just stop in after work for a cigar.  Truly, Leaf & Bean breaks down the stereotypes of the “typical cigar smoker” and creates a fun and friendly place to hang out, whether the customers have ever smoked a cigar before or not.

New manager Jake Mulliken knows this all too well. Originally from California, Mulliken is a local filmmaker who was drawn to the shop about a year ago by the music and atmosphere, even though he didn’t really smoke cigars at the time.

“The people who hang out here are cool people,” says Mullikan. For the past year, he has been hanging out in the café and working when needed, and finally he became manager.  “A typical cigar smoker is a middle-aged white guy, but that’s not the case here,” says former manager Darren Shue.

Dan Monks, a first-time customer visiting from Kansas City, was thrilled with the café. Monks has to travel all over for work, and in each city, he seeks out a cigar shop, always interested in local color and cigar culture. Even though he was born and raised in Pittsburgh, he has not seen any cigar shop like the Leaf & Bean before.

Photo by Aaron Warnick

Photo by Aaron Warnick

“I couldn’t believe when I came in here and saw 10 brands I never saw,” he says.

Owner Jim Robinson’s personality and love of small, boutique cigar manufacturers seemed to fit perfectly among the off-beat shops and shoppers in the Strip District, making The Leaf & Bean Company a perfectly content resident there since 2003. Even though customers can spend hours just looking around at the decorations, the humidor in the back is “the heart of it all,” according to Shue.

Behind the humidor’s wooden door is a room filled with 300 to 400 cigars from all over the world. Small boutique brands and special blends attract customers from all over the country and even the world. In fact, Robinson even travels to where the cigars are made to request special blends just for Leaf & Bean.

The small, boutique cigar brands are part of what make Leaf & Bean so unique, as is its coffee which is hand roasted in an antique roaster one pound at a time. Perhaps the most unique aspects about Leaf & Bean, though, are the attitudes and philosophy behind it, and those are an extension of Robinson himself.

“I’m not from anywhere, really,” claims Robinson as he smokes one of his cigars while rearranging others in the humidor.  He has been on the cigar scene for 20 years now, and though he is a man of few words,

Photo by Aaron Warnick

Photo by Aaron Warnick

Robinson’s attire speaks for itself. From his feathered straw hat to his tie-dyed shirt, he fits in perfectly with the café he has christened his “clubhouse.” And the reason for opening such a unique cigar shop in the Strip District? It’s simple, he says:

“Because I didn’t want to work.” And coming to a place like Leaf & Bean wouldn’t feel like going to work, but rather like going to someone’s eclectic living room, surrounded by friends, entertaining décor, coffee, cigars, and good music. The Leaf & Bean fits into the Strip District, with its friendly, small staff and original products, but the colorful, laid-back business stands out as one of a kind, too.