William Harris keeps making lemonade.
Lemonade these days looks like running two cigar lounge locations with a twist. The two Classic Blends shops operate on opposite hours and are only separated by a brisk three-block walk in North Kansas City.
Harris and his wife Carolina are the primary employees of the two cigar lounges. The 21st Street location opens early in the morning and focuses on coffee, while the one on 24th Street and Burlington is much larger, opens at 5 p.m., and hosts musicians and events.
“It’s a place where you can kick back, relax and have a nice cigar,” says Harris. “The community loves it, we get a nice diverse crowd for the shows and all different types come in for business meetings or just to hang out.”
Classic R&B — loud enough to hear the words — greets guests at both locations when they aren’t hosting an event. The cigar lounges both feature comfortable seating in a warm interior with crisp air and dramatic portraits on the walls. Both have coffee and bar service, televisions, and, of course, a walk-in humidor full of boutique cigars.
Lemonade Out of Lemons
Classic Blends and its unique setup all started when the 2020 pandemic handed Harris lemons.
He was pastor of a small congregation that dissolved as a result of COVID. He had been a bi-vocational pastor, and always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
Previously, he worked as an accountant with a charter school and KC Parks and Recreation. Before his 15 years of pastoring, Harris and his wife also owned a couple of coffee shop franchises that moved them north of the river.
When no longer leading a flock, Harris, the serial entrepreneur, had some time to ponder his next move. He decided he wanted to open a cigar & coffee shop. He knew the coffee side, but needed to get more familiar with the cigar business. So Harris picked up a part-time gig at a popular Westport cigar shop to hone the tobacconist craft.
After working there for a year, Harris came home and told his wife that he was ready and the two started scouting for locations.
They wanted to open their shop in rapidly developing North Kansas City, but more lemons came his way when negotiations fell through on a busy corner location near Chicken N Pickle. Undeterred, Harris went old school, deciding to just drive around looking for real estate. The move paid off when he found the Burlington location.
But problems arose again when the cigar lounge had to open after 5 p.m. to ease concerns of second-hand smoke to neighboring businesses. Classic Blends has a state-of-the-art air purifying system but wanted to be a good neighbor, so Harris moved back its hours. The later opening time put a major dent in the coffee business; so the Harrises started looking for a new space despite only operating their first location for a few months.
The second location on 21st Street fits their idealized coffee shop business model, but William and Carolina had to put their heads together to figure out what to do with the larger Burlington location. Once again, the Harrises took a problem and turned it into an opportunity.
18th & Vine Vibe North of the River
“There’s really not a big space north of the river for Black music,” says Harris. “So we thought, well, we’ll bring some of the 18th & Vine vibes here.”
The evening location of Classic Blends started hosting a jazz night with Max Groove on Thursdays.
Soon, the music venue became a hit and drew in more customers. Now, the Burlington Classic Blends hosts live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
“Kansas City is driven by music, and you don’t know it until you start digging into it,” says Harris. “There’s talent everywhere in KC, so we get to be selective.”
Thursday nights have remained a classic jazz night, but other shows consistently showcase up-and-coming musicians in both jazz and classic R&B.
Harris sees both cigar shops as long-term ventures. The evening shop that doubles as a music venue complements the coffee shop and vice versa.
Classic Blends sells memberships that entitle members to a locker to store a private stock of cigars. Members can also use the morning coffee-focused shop as a personal hangout even when the business is closed.
Coming Up @ Classic Blends
In addition to the music calendar found on their website (ClassicBlendsCigar.com/events) the location at 2425 Burlington in NKC is hosting a pre-draft kickoff party on Wed., April 26. The limited-capacity draft welcome party requires a $20 cover charge but has a mixer and meal from 5 to 7 p.m. Then a Q&A session with former Chiefs players Neil Smith, Kimble Anders, and Danan Hughes will be followed by music into the evening.