Smokin’ new business

What is the outcome of combining molasses and fruit flavors in a bowl? It isn’t a dessert in the case of a new downtown Grand Forks business.

Dreas Hookah Lounge, the state’s first such business, is planning to welcome its first customers at 416 DeMers Ave. in the next twohookah weeks. Manager Andy Brunette explained that a hookah is a tobacco-smoking device with a glass base filled with water or juice, with an attached metal stem, a hose and a ceramic bowl.

A burning charcoal rests on foil covering the bowl, which is filled with strip-leaf tobacco combined with molasses. This acts as a heating element to vaporize, not burn, the tobacco known as shisha, releasing the natural nicotine and the sugar from molasses.

It isn’t the same tobacco found in cigarettes or cigars, Brunette said — it has a lower nicotine concentration, contains no chemical additives and usually comes in fruit flavors such as strawberry or papaya.

The vapor is first filtered through the base’s water before going through an inhaling hose. “It’s a very smooth smoke,” he said, because of this water filtration.

It still has health risks — it is a tobacco product, after all, and research into its effects suggests it could lead to increased risks of gum disease and other health problems. “It’s basically for people 18 and older to come in and make that choice as an adult,” he said.

Hookah etiquette

The use of hookahs dates to the 16th century in India. It has since gained popularity in the Middle East and is gaining fans in North America.

Hookah etiquette tends to relate to Middle Eastern culture. For example, the hookah itself should not be higher than eye level. “They just felt that nothing should be above you except for God,” he explained.

Another rule is to only use the right hand to hold the hose because the left hand is considered unclean, he said. Brunette didn’t have an explanation for another rule — when finished with one’s turn, it is recommended to set the hose down on the table and allow the next smoker to pick it up rather than directly passing it off.

“It’s just been done throughout the ages that way,” he said.

But patrons can relax — Brunette will provide informational sheets at each table but said he won’t be enforcing these rules. “So, if you would want to read it and say, ‘Oh, let’s follow this the way it’s supposed to be,’ you can,” he said.

Smokers won’t have to worry about loading the hookah either, a somewhat complicated process for a beginner. “I’ll bring it out smoking and ready for you,” he said.

There will be modern elements, such as couches and high bar tables to sit around, but there will also be a section with a more Middle Eastern influence.

“It’s just nothing but pillows on the ground and a base for the hookah,” he said. Brunette figured his lounge could hold 9 or 10 groups of as many as four people at a time.

Business plan

Brunette said he first tried a hookah years ago at a friend’s lounge in Sheboygan, Wis. “I just fell in love with it basically,” he said. “It was a very sweet taste.”

He has become a connoisseur of sorts, smoking a hookah one or two times each day. But the decision to open his own lounge has been a two-year process, he said.

The 22-year-old Cleveland, Wis., native came to Grand Forks to get aviation training at UND, eventually leaving the program. He put his lounge idea on the back burner until he attended a tobacco retailer trade show in Las Vegas, which made him think these businesses tend to do well in college towns.

“I was just like, ‘Well, I live in a college town, and there’s nothing out there,’” he said. “Being out here since I was 18, there’s nothing to do if you’re an 18- to 21-year-old. You can only go to the movies so many times.”

The lounge’s main clientele will likely be college students, he said, and there will probably be many curious customers at first because of the novelty factor. But he hopes to attract repeat customers who appreciate the new business.

Brunette said he didn’t want to serve alcohol because getting a liquor license is expensive, and doing so would classify it as a bar, which could be problematic if North Dakota eventually bans smoking in bars.

Besides serving hookahs loaded with combinations of 45 flavors of shisha, he will also sell hookahs, accessories and tobacco. Brunette plans on serving light snacks and drinks such as juice, energy drinks and brewed coffee and tea.

It will cost $12 to $16 for each loaded hookah, which is enough to handle one to four people and last for 45 minutes or longer.

Brunette said he hopes the lounge will become successful and be a good fit for the downtown area because that’s where the nightlife happens. His store will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

“I want it to be viewed as something fun to do if you can’t go to the bars,” he said.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to [email protected].
By: Ryan Johnson, Grand Forks Herald

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