Over a cigar, Peter Karmanos Jr. shares how Kid Rock influenced his cigar hobby.
By Andy Reid
Photography by Erin Kirkland
When you’re buzzed into the business offices of Mad Dog Technology, the company founded in 2014 by Compuware co-founder and former CEO Peter Karmanos Jr., the first thing you notice is the nostalgic aroma. Walk up a flight of stairs and into the office suite, and the scent gets stronger — the warm, earthy smell of a quality cigar. Karmanos is finishing up a call when we arrive, and he is working the stub of a nearly finished cigar between his lips. He gently stubs it out as he hangs up the phone.
“That is one reason I smoke this cigar,” he says, when I mention the pleasant aroma filling the office. “It’s a really decent-smelling cigar. There are some that are just awful.”
His cigar of choice has been the Ashton Virgin Sun Grown Enchantment for about a decade. A cigar enthusiast for about 20 years, he’s stuck with the Enchantment since discovering it, but he does dabble with other brands and varieties.
There aren’t many people bustling around the office today, but Karmanos’ administrative assistant Jennifer Fournier smiles as he lights up another Enchantment.
“It is so unusual these days, because you can’t smoke anywhere else,” he says of the Mad Dog Technology offices in Birmingham. “I asked everyone that I work with if it is all right. And I make sure they aren’t just saying it’s all right because I am the boss. And it doesn’t seem like anyone minds it.”
The office is decorated more like a cozy apartment than a workspace, with plush furniture arranged around the boardroom and posters memorializing Karmanos’ many successes. The walls are adorned with signed hockey jerseys and other sports memorabilia; pictures of his children; gifts and awards from various businesses and organizations; a beautiful poster commemorating the Stanley Cup won by his team, the Carolina Hurricanes, in 2006; a framed photo of Karmanos shaking hands with President Trump; and, of course, the cigar paraphernalia.
Vintage cigar posters cover the walls, and an ashtray sits on the desk. Atop an end table near the common-area couch is a small, carved wooden box with a latch. Karmanos flips it open, revealing a crushed red felt interior, stocked with his go-to cigars. In there now, he has about 10 Enchantments and a few My Father Flor de Las Antillas.
A product of the Dominican Republic, the Enchantment is, according to the online retailer Famous Smoke Shop, a fairly difficult cigar to obtain because it is wildly popular among cigar collectors. A box of 22 can be purchased online for about $260.
“The first time I had one of these, I said, ‘Oh, I like this,’ ” Karmanos says. “It is the right size. I call it a dog-walker. It lasts about 30 minutes of steady smoke, and you don’t have to smoke it all day long. It is strong, and I like a stronger cigar.”
The Flor de Las Antillas is more of a commitment, and Karmanos will smoke one if he has more time to kick back, relax and puff. A box of those costs about $130.
Karmanos will never describe himself as a cigar expert or aficionado. When asked what he looks for in a good cigar, he chuckles. “I am not going to be able to help you very much — I just smoke them,” he says.
But he knows what he likes, and that includes Churchill’s Bistro and Cigar Bar in Birmingham. “That is a neat place, and they have great food. It’s a pretty big kick to go out and have dinner and smoke cigars,” he says.
The 75-year-old’s cigar hobby began about 20 years ago, when a friend handed him a Short Story, a popular cigar made by Arturo Fuentes Hemingway. That friend? Kid Rock, whom Karmanos affectionately calls Bobby.
The two were hanging out, Karmanos recalls, when Rock asked Karmanos if he wanted a cigar. Karmanos declined. Karmanos started smoking cigarettes when he was 13 and, by the time he was 30, had developed a three-pack-a-day habit. After what he describes as a “long battle,” Karmanos finally quit smoking with the help of Nicorette gum. By the time Rock offered him a Short Story, Karmanos had been smoke- and nicotine-aid-free for more than 10 years.
“I said, ‘Well, I have been off cigarettes for a long time.’ And he goes, ‘Well with cigars, you don’t inhale them, and you still get some nicotine from it,’ ” Karmanos says. “I said, ‘I’ll try that,’ and I really enjoyed the cigar. I didn’t inhale it, and I got a little buzz from it. I thought, ‘Gee, this ain’t bad, but I do not want to get hooked on them.’ So I went a month and didn’t have a need to smoke a cigar, and I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty cool.’ Because if I would have smoked a cigarette, I would be back smoking a whole pack.
“You can blame him fully,” he jokes, referring to the rocker.
Karmanos plans to keep smoking the Enchantment, with the occasional foray into another cigar. But his tastes aren’t too ritzy. He says the most expensive cigar he ever smoked was a Cuban that he found in the cigar room of a hotel in Switzerland. It cost about $120.
“It was a good cigar,” he nods.
“Good cigar? You could taste the difference?” I asked in return.
“No,” he says, and chuckles at the thought.