The first time you walk into Old Oaks Cigar & Wine Co., you'd be forgiven if you thought the place had either just opened, or if a tornado had blown through. There's a counter to the right, displaying cigar accessories and some liquor bottles. To the left, stacked from the floor in some cases, are more bottles. Mostly spirits. Turn left and a small bar with a big espresso machine is on your right. Above it, next to the TV, hangs a deer head wearing a bowler hat. Turn left again and you'll see a large beer cooler where you'll find Lagunitas, Ninkasi, Samuel Smith, Leffe, Duvel and more.
What you'll soon discover is that the place is just too busy for owner Albert Chrikjian to be terribly concerned with order. After more than a dozen years, Chrikjian says the place is "still a work in progress."
"We kept adding something new every six months," Chrikjian explains. "This comes from listening to your customers."
Something new might be a cigar someone has requested or a 50-year-old Scotch. On a Thursday morning, a customer comes in and buys a $100 bottle of Zacapa 23-year-old rum. Chrikjian will try to get whatever you want, and pretty much always succeeds. This is one secret to his success.
Old Oaks used to be dead. It would open at 11 in the morning and close at six in the evening. Before Chrikjian took it over in 2002, there was just a small front room. The store was clearly not keeping up with the demands of a growing city; one that is affluent, and that loves cigars.
"I have a parking problem," Chrikjian says. That's an understatement. Old Oaks has no parking except for the street. On any night of the week, and sometimes during much of the day, the front lounge is packed. There is a bigger room in the back. When the weather is good (most of the time) the sidewalk seating is jammed. Maybe it's just for the hot dog cart.
The front room now has leather club chairs plus two high-top tables with four chairs each. The back room has about 20 seats and a long table. People, mostly men, come to have a beer, a glass of wine, and a cigar, or several cigars. They come in groups. If you don't know anyone when you arrive, you will by the time you leave. The whole vibe is about comfort, chilling out and shedding the stress of the day.
Apart from the store's own brand, which is rolled inside the humidor, San Lotano is the bestselling cigar. Chrikjian says the store recently sold 155 boxes during a San Lotano event. Almost every brand in every size you would want is available here. Old Oaks carries 250 to 300 lines. Tatuaje, based in nearby Los Angeles, is a big seller here, as well. A full 70 percent of the store's sales are from cigars.
Chrikjian's story is a classic American immigrant tale. In short, his family is from Syria, of Armenian ancestry. He came to the United States in 1981, first to Kansas City, where an uncle lived. Three years later, he was in southern California, working in restaurants. Now, with four brothers the family owns three cigar shops in the greater Los Angeles area. Albert runs Old Oaks with his brother Arsenne.
Albert Chrikjian sums up the whole deal pretty succinctly. "I'm very blessed."
So are the cigar lovers of Thousand Oaks.
Old Oaks Cigar & Wine Co.
3006 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
Monday through Saturday: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.