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Cigar politics

Rick Coates - May 10th, 2010
Cigar Politics: Despite smoking ban, 15th Annual Cigar Dinner is a go
By Rick Coates
The Michigan smoking ban has been law for less than two weeks, yet a
provision in the law that allows for cigar bar exemption will be
tested this week as the Ancient Order of Hibernians play host to the
15th Annual Father Fred Foundation Cigar Dinner.
“We were given legal advice that our event qualifies for the cigar bar
exemption of the new law,” said Mike Nolan of Nolan’s Tobacco in
Traverse City. He adds that in order to qualify for the cigar bar
exemption, 10% of sales have to be cigars, something that can be
counted on at the upcoming event.

The Father Fred Foundation has become dependent on the annual cigar
dinner with 25% of their annual cash donations generated by the
“It goes beyond just the dinner,” said David Abeel, development
director, “The Ancient Order of Hibernians has been active for many
years in not only raising money for Father Fred, but helping to create
a greater awareness for our organization. This cigar dinner has spun
off numerous other fundraisers for our organization. Often, we are
unaware these fundraisers are even happening until they are done and
we receive a call from the business or organization wanting to come
over with a donation.”
Nolan concurs: “There are a lot of very influential people who
participate in the dinner; some are not even cigar smokers. This
dinner has become a great networking event for the Foundation that has
led to many doors being open to them in this community.”
The Father Fred Foundation was started in 1990 by Father Edwin
Fredrick to assist people who had “fallen through the cracks of
society and bureaucratic red tape.” Father Fred kept his mission
simple when he started assisting families and individuals in the
greater Grand Traverse region: “Listen, care and share,” he would tell
his volunteers.
“Our work is about giving people their dignity, everyone has a right
to that,” he would often say.

Father Fred passed away 10 years ago, but his work is carried on by
countless volunteers. The Bun Brady Division of the Ancient Order of
Hibernians, a Traverse City based Irish Christian organization, began
assisting the Father Fred Foundation in 1992 with the launch of the
Lucky Leprechaun fundraiser held each year during St. Patrick’s Day. A
few years later the group started the Cigar Dinner.
The first dinner attracted about 150 participants. This year’s dinner
is sold out at 350 guests and has a waiting list.
“This dinner is more than just about cigars; it is one of the great
social events of the year,” Nolan says. “Right from the start we have
brought the best chefs from the region, who each along with their team
prepare a component of the meal for the evening. It is an impressive
sight to see them all work together. In addition, we have some of the
top purveyors of wine, bourbon, scotch and other high end spirits and
beers on hand.”

The dinner is known nationally. Ashton Cigars considers the Father
Fred Dinner one of the most important and best run charity cigar
dinners in the country. Ashton Cigars donates $10,000 to the
Foundation as a result of their participation. Woodford Reserve, the
premium bourbon maker from Kentucky also sees the importance of the
event. Each year they donate an auction prize that allows for four
people to come to the distillery to blend the bourbons that will
become the following year’s Father Fred Foundation Cigar Dinner
Signature Blend. The special bottles are sold at the dinner with all
proceeds benefitting the Foundation.
The evening concludes with an impressive live and silent auction.
Nolan said that they are “unsure about getting an exemption in future
years,” but they are grateful for the opportunity to host it again
this year.
 The dinner will take place at the Williamsburg Dinner Theater, under
a large tent in a wooded area behind the kitchen facilities where
caterer Dan Kelly hosts several outdoor weddings and other receptions.
The first Father Fred Cigar dinner was held at the Park Place Dome.
Does Mike Nolan see any full-time cigar bars coming to Northern Michigan?
“No, I just do not see how anyone is in a position to pull it off. The
restrictions are tough,” said Nolan. “The American cigar smoker on
average smokes 1.6 cigars a week. Not a lot, so cigar bars would have
a tough time generating 10% of their sales from cigars. Remember that
cigar bars would not be allowed to have cigarette smokers, just cigar
smokers. So it is a very limited clientele.”
Nolan is quick to add that there is a lot of confusion about the smoking ban.
“This not a consumer law, this is a labor law,” said Nolan. ‘The law
was established to protect employees in the workplace. Not the
So does Nolan see private citizens having backyard cigar BBQs?
“I have heard some speculate about the idea,” said Nolan. “But they
have to remember they have to prepare all of the food themselves;
caterers and paid employees would not be permitted.”
Nolan is not sure about the status of the 2011 dinner. “Our focus is
on this year’s dinner; we were unsure a month ago as to whether we
were even going to have it and in just three weeks we have pulled it
all off and sold out. That is testament to the many volunteers who
make this happen.”
To date, the Ancient Order of Hibernians through the Cigar Dinner,
Lucky Leprechaun Ball and Lucky Leprechauns have raised in excess of
$1 million for the Foundation.

(Contributing editor Rick Coates along with Mike Nolan and Mike
Shirley founded the Father Fred Foundation Cigar Dinner 15 years ago.
Coates co-chaired the first two dinners before handing off the reins
to Tim Smith who along with tobacconist Mike Nolan continue to
co-chair the event.)

The 15th Annual Father Fred Foundation Cigar Dinner will take place
Thursday, May 13 at the Williamsburg Dinner Theater. The event is sold
out; however the organization is still taking donations for the silent
auction as well as cash donations. This Saturday the Father Fred
Foundation will host their annual garage sale, last year’s sale
attracted over 1,500 people and raised $25,000. To learn more contact
David Abeel at 231.947-2055 ext. 18 or visit

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