Cigar lovers will no doubt be familiar with Two Guys Smoke Shop, the “highest volume family-owned-and-operated premium cigar shop,” David Garofalo says of the tobacco retailer which he co-founded with his brother, John, who passed away 17 years ago. “My wife, Lori, is accounts payable, and my daughter, Gianna, works in marketing and promotion. My mom still helps out a little — she’s 90 years old now. My uncles have worked for me. Basically, if you’re related to me, you’ve probably put some hours in over the years,” he laughs. The business boasts three New Hampshire locations: Seabrook, Nashua and Salem.
What is less known is what lies on the second floor of the Salem store: Studio 21 Podcast Cafe, a state-of-the-art recording studio where Garofalo’s The Cigar Authority show, which reaches 55,000 weekly listeners, is recorded. Years ago, Gianna inspired the idea for Studio 21 Podcast Cafe when she urged her father to start promoting the family business through social media. This was back in 2010 and, not having been raised in the Internet age, Garofalo admits his initial unfamiliarity with the world of virtual communities. Gianna began to educate him. “The most interesting thing that I found in social media was the podcasting aspect,” he says. Excited about the potential reach and the ability to target a dedicated audience of cigar lovers with marketing opportunities, Garofalo dove in.
“Over time, I learned that podcasting could become a real business in itself,” he says, “We added a stage, we added cameras so that we could be on YouTube and Facebook, we hired a professional producer, we created lighting and a whole studio around it, and we called the studio Studio 21 Podcast Cafe.” The name was inspired by Garofalo’s early days spinning records in nightclubs and a play on the moniker of the famous New York City disco Studio 54. At one point, they employed a barista (hence the cafe portion of the name), so folks could enjoy a latte while watching and listening to a live podcast recording. Due to the studio’s second-floor location, which didn’t lend itself to suitable foot traffic or casual drop-ins, they eventually switched to a Keurig.
As Garofalo continued learning the ins and outs of the podcast world, he recognized an opportunity. “We had this beautiful studio here and it was only being used a couple of hours a week.” He decided to open his doors to the public, offering people a professional place to create their own show.
Participants have exclusive access to the production savvy and promotional prowess of Chrissy Cunningham, an Australian-born singer and self-professed tech geek who moved from the Land Down Under to Salem, N.H., after the sudden passing of her husband, who was born in the Merrimack Valley area. “Through his friends and family, I got to meet Dave at the shop,” Cunningham remembers. “We got to talking, and I came up one day and I saw the studio here, and instantly my eyes lit up like a little kid’s. I thought, this is incredible. I said to Dave, if you ever need any help with any of it, let me know. And, from there, he kind of took me under his wing. Everyone here, they’re all like family to me now. And, over time, I’ve become close with many of the podcasters themselves.”
The studio’s programs range in topic from training canines (“The Quirky Dog”) to Merrimack Valley politics (“Paying Attention”) and everything in between. Anyone interested in developing a podcast is offered a 21-minute consultation, followed by coaching, recording expertise and studio time services. But don’t expect to be successful overnight. “We say, don’t think it’s like turning on a light switch and monetization happens,” Garofalo cautions. “We have to first find your niche, build a show, [and] build an audience.”
While COVID hit, some of the talent temporarily stayed away. “We’re having a resurgence now,” Cunningham says. And she’s confident her passion for podcasting will continue to help grow the shows she produces. “I love this kind of stuff. I eat it up. I crave this stuff. I don’t know, it’s like my lifeblood. This is a perfect fit for me.”
Studio 21 Podcast Cafe