A peek inside Forest Park's cigar emporium

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By Amy Malina

Contributing reporter

Other area cigar parlors in Oak Park and River Forest have come and gone, but Casa de Puros, 7410 Madison St., remains. Local entrepreneur Tim Polk even introduced his own Cuban-style cigar this year: the Don Timo Enigma.

Don Timo is the brainchild of Polk, who fondly recalls his days playing football at Oak Park and River Forest High School (class of 1980). He said he became enamored of Cuba — the land, the people, the music and the tobacco — when he began visiting the island in 1998.

Polk, who describes himself as "a 'tin man' at heart," is a born salesman and promoter. With his huge smile and dapper fedora, he is the energetic, welcoming spirit of his cigar lounge and his namesake cigar brand. He says he started running businesses in buildings owned by his father on Chicago's West Side, then moved on to "pushing tin" — selling windows and siding, first for an employer and later starting his own company.

Don Timo — unapologetically named for himself — is a company of which Polk is most proud. According to Polk, a friend once looked him over and said, "Tim, you are an enigma!" and a cigar name was born.

Polk, who says he smokes several cigars a day and is able to blow truly impressive smoke rings, launched the Don Timo brand in 2010 after many visits to tobacco plantations and experiments with leaf blends, working with a Florida company, Alec Bradley, which handles boutique cigars.

The cigars are made in Honduras, Polk said, because strict customs and tariff laws prohibit the import of goods from the island of Cuba.

The first shipment, he says, arrived in June 2012. He sold 50 boxes in the first two months and Don Timo cigars are now carried in Forest Park, Matteson, and two locations in Chicago (one on Taylor Street, the other on Ashland).

The cigar's success is in many ways an homage to his family history. The image on the label (which also looks a good deal like Tim Polk) represents his grandfather, a Mississippi sharecropper and father of 13 who was, as Polk puts it, "born in the fields, worked and died in the fields." That weathered face is now the face of the Enigma cigar.

Polk, who said he was briefly married to a Cuban woman, but now describes himself as "solo," designed the member's lounge of his shop in classic bachelor club style — deep leather chairs, dark wood-paneled walls, marble fireplace and ample ashtrays.

Polk says that when the architect asked him what he had in mind for the lounge, he immediately answered, "Don Corleone." A remote-controlled "smoke-out" feature enables him to block the view into the lounge through the windows at a touch, with no need for curtains.

There are 90 members in the cigar club, Polk said, and the lounge can be rented for events. A tin tray ceiling glows discreetly above as Cuban music plays. The walls feature photos Polk says he took on his Cuban travels. Subjects range from workers rolling cigars to a voodoo priestess to Fidel Castro with Central American dignitaries.

"Don Timo is one of only six African-American businesses in this industry," says Polk, pleased with his contribution to his grandfather's legacy.

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