April 1999
Volume 26
Number 2

Frank "Smitty" Smith, president, F.G.T. Enterprises, Inc.
Fine Grade Tobaccos
and More

by James Lawson

In the heart of America's cigar country, F.G.T. Enterprises puts quality pipe tobaccos on center stage.

F.G.T. Enterprises, Inc. - the name stands for 'Frank and Gordon's Team' - is a Tampa, Florida-based company that is a wholesaler and distributor of tobacco products and accessories. In addition, F.G.T. manufactures a line of handmade pipes, and hand-blends a line of exclusive pipe tobaccos. The company's success is enhanced by the fact that it has decades of first-hand experience as a smoke shop retailer. I had the opportunity recently to visit F.G.T.'s factory and talk at length with company president and founder Frank "Smitty" Smith.

The factory is located at the far end of an industrial park. The building's facade exhibits a hokey Ponderosa Steak House-like look. Smitty, a wiry, energetic man, explained that the building formerly housed a country music dance hall. He and son Gordon had to extensively remodel the interior to make it suitable for their use.

F.G.T. could also stand for 'Fine Grade Tobacco.' Pipe tobacco is one of the company's mainstays; it offers an array of bulk blends that will satiate most pipe smokers. But first, it should be noted that F.G.T. owns Edward's Wholesale Division. Edward's is a reputable chain of smoke shops located throughout the U.S. Most of the Edward's stores are franchised; the original store is owned by F.G.T. These shops sell an exclusive selection of F.G.T.-produced bulk blends, as well as Edward's pipes.

I sampled 12 of Edward's blends, and here are some highlights. Special Balkan is the only Edward's (or F.G.T.) blend that Smitty deliberately set out to duplicate; the legendary Balkan Sobranie inspired the blend. Special Balkan is a heady one that will appeal to many English-style tobacco lovers, due to its 50% Latakia content. My favorite - Edward's Supreme - is a delightful Latakia-laced English smoke. I found Scottish Moor to be noteworthy as well. For those pipe smokers who prefer fruity, sweet tobaccos, Peach Blossom, Toasted Cherry, and Dolphin are among Edward's cavendish-based bestsellers.

For retailers that are non-members of the Edward's smoke shop family, F.G.T. developed Buccaneer Blends - a collection of mostly aromatic pipe tobaccos - four years ago. There are, at present, 13 Buccaneer Blends that have refreshingly easy-to-remember names reminiscent of the tropics. Some wholesale tobacco firms give little thought to the names that they slap on their bulk blends; one often sees blend 37296 or blend JQM3Z.

It has been my privilege to smoke hundreds of tobacco blends from scores of companies over the past 25 years. My tastes run from husky English blends to sweet aromatics. A majority of the blends that I have tried are good; some are excellent, some ghastly.

None of the two dozen F.G.T. blends - Edward's and Buccaneer - that I have smoked are at all objectionable. Just the opposite, I found most of them quite delightful and satisfying.

A number of the aromatic blends on the market are really too wet to smoke. Wet tobacco, as any pipe veteran knows, smokes hot. A hot smoke most often leads to tongue bite, a condition that drives many smokers away from the pipe altogether. Wet tobacco is often a result of the types and amounts of casings and/or top dressings that give aromatic tobaccos their uniqueness. Wet tobacco can also result from the application of moisteners and preservatives that give the product an extended shelf life. Many pipe enthusiasts believe that these ingredients affect the enjoyment of a blend. A number of black-cavendish-based tobaccos are damp, almost soggy, from the start. Sure, the first one-third to one-half bowlful can be pleasant, but beware thereafter. The pipe will require constant relightings and the smoker's tongue will feel like it was tilled with a miniature Garden Weasel.

F.G.T.'s Buccaneer Blends are different. Smitty took me to the tobacco-blending section of the factory, and pulled out large bins of aromatic tobaccos. He scooped a fistful of the blend and squeezed it in his hand, tossed the tobacco back, and then rubbed his hands together. He did this repeatedly with a number of blends and encouraged me to do the same. The result - there was no cloying, sticky residue left on our hands.

Mixing pipe tobacco blends at F.G.T's Tampa facility (top). Tobaccos are packed in either individual resealable consumer packs or bulk display jars (bottom)

Why is this important? When an F.G.T. tobacco is loaded into a pipe, lit, and tamped down while it is smoked, there is no goo that remains in the bowl. The result is a cooler, drier, tastier smoke. Also, the smoker is able to smoke more of the non-gurgling tobacco in the bowl.

I have smoked all but one of the Buccaneer blends, and there's not a beast in the bunch. I wasn't crazy about all of them, to be honest, but those few blends were only too mild for my personal taste. All of the Buccaneers were very consistent: rather easy to light, not damp, smoked cleanly, and tasted quite like they smelled in the pouch. Some of the blends are close in composition to the Edward's blends, but none are exact copies. The flavorful Blackbeard is my personal favorite; it is a black cavendish with a taste of vanilla and cocoa.

The newest blend is Paradise Peach, which I found similar to Edward's Peach Blossom. This blend has what I call a positive W.A.F. - Wife Acceptance Factor. There are a number of blends to interest Burley smokers: Pirates Cove, South Pacific, and Trade Winds. These blends burn slowly and lack the "soapy" taste that some burleys have. The prices for the Buccaneers range from $6.24 each for the 8 oz. packs, to $11.96 each for 16 oz. and $11.00/lb. for the 5 lb. bulk containers.

Smitty will be happy to discuss the Buccaneer blends with any retailer. After all, he created and smoked every blend that his company sells. He has a large personal collection of tobaccos from around the world, and knows what works as a blend and what doesn't.

F.G.T. is also the exclusive home of the Sportsman Lighter. This liquid-fueled aluminum pipe lighter is about the size, shape, and weight of a roll of Lifesavers. The wholesale cost of the Sportsman is $12. I owned this very lighter 25 years ago and found it trouble-free. The Sportsman of today differs only in that it has a small compass affixed to one end.

F.G.T. also provides a most useful brochure for the novice pipe smoker. Called "The Happy Rewards of Pipe Smoking," this brochure describes the proper way to load a pipe, light it and keep it lit, and clean it. No first-time pipe purchaser should leave your smoke shop without this (or any similar) brochure.

Want cigars and accessories? F.G.T. has them too. Zippos, handmade pipes, smokeless cigar ashtrays, pipe furniture, humidors, leather goods, and much more are available. In perusing its price list, one sees that F.G.T. caters to price-conscious smoke shops. There are no $300 cigar scissors or sable-lined pipe pouches. Instead, the company concentrates on selling quality products at affordable price points.

F.G.T. Enterprises, Inc., 9430 Lazy Lane, Tampa, FL 33614, Tel: (800) 783-3481, Fax: (813) 935-5804, E-mail: fgtent@mindspring.com, Website: www.fgtent.com

SMOKESHOP - April 99