Cam Newton makes statement with cigar lounge 'Fellaship' in Atlanta

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton never has hidden his passion for cigars. The Carolina Panthers quarterback has been pictured often on his social media puffing or holding a lit stogie. Cigars bring back his childhood memories of Michael Jordan celebrating an NBA title in the locker room with an expensive smoke.

Newton says cigars put him "at peace."

Now, Newton is sharing a piece of his passion with an upscale cigar lounge and restaurant, named "Fellaship," in his hometown of Atlanta. The bar is located in the shadow of Mercedes-Benz Stadium where Super Bowl LIII will take place at 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS) on Sunday.

The lounge's soft opening is Friday through Sunday, and Newton and other celebrities will be on hand to mingle with guests that pay anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for a ticket. There will be a theme every day during the soft opening.

"A lot of who I am is going against the grain," Newton said Wednesday on radio station 680 The Fan. "They tell athletes or people who come into money all the time don't spend your money on restaurants. But this is different. I know it's different. I feel as if for the Atlanta base, there is nothing that can equate to a person who wants to smoke a cigar, have good food and be entertained in the same night."

The 4,600-square foot space designed by Will Meyer and Gray Davis out of the New York City-based Meyer Davis group screams Newton, known for his one-of-a-kind hats and outlandish outfits. Some of the furniture is covered in the same type of materials as the blazers the 2015 NFL MVP has worn to postgame interviews.

There's even a "secret" VIP dining room hidden behind a book case that pivots.

"Cam is a little bit of a jokester, so he wanted some fun surprises in there," said Atlanta-based Melt Sports & Entertainment CEO Vince Thompson, who like Newton, Davis and Meyer are all Auburn alumni.

No expense was spared on the project Newton and his brother, C.J., have overseen from the start. The cost, according to Thompson, was "north of $7 million" with Newton and his family footing 100 percent of the cost.

The cost includes not only the real estate, but the eclectic artwork, television screens mounted like artwork and a humidor that sits prominently in the main room.

"He demanded a real strong sense of style and refinement, like a tailored elegance," Davis said. "It's not dissimilar from his attention to detail in fashion. ... Really, everything was important to Cam. He even wanted the bathrooms to be really lush."

The goal is for the business to expand to other NFL cities, with Charlotte -- where Newton lives during the season -- at the top of the list.

"I'm excited because not only will you have a good opportunity to smoke a cigar, there will be a culinary experience like no other," Newton said. "For me, just smoking a cigar is just like the rookie stage. But when you pair it with certain wines, bourbons and different things, being educated about that, that's what's so interesting about food in general and even cigars."

The name

The first thing Thompson told Newton when they met about a year ago to discuss the quarterback's vision was to come up with a name for the lounge that didn't have Cam or Newton attached to it.

They needed to create a lifestyle brand that left open opportunities for expansion as well as carried an emotional connection with Newton's family.

"Literally, the next day, he came up with the name 'Fellaship,'" Thompson said. "He said it's a double entendre because he grew up in a church and his dad was a preacher and after church everybody would bring lunch and we'd break bread and have fellowship together.

"I said that is absolutely brilliant. When you don't have a career in football you'll have a career in advertising and marketing."

Newton reminded during his Wednesday radio interview that outside the South, people might say fellowship, but where he's from it's pronounced more like Fellaship.

The lounge is described on the website "FellashipATL" just that way, as "a place for those to indulge in the luxuries of fine dining, cigar smoking and socializing."

"He's got a lot of his fingerprints on it," Thompson said of Newton and the lounge. "He's very artistic. In my dealings with him, it's nothing like his warrior image on the field."

The image

Newton often is associated with images of him giving footballs to kids in the stands after touchdowns or making surprise visits to kids with life-threatening illnesses. His Cam Newton Foundation is committed to enhancing the lives of youth.

So the image of the quarterback smoking cigars could be considered a conflict by some.

"We talked a lot about that," Thompson said. "Obviously, it was a consideration."

Ultimately, the plan is to host events at the lounge where a portion of the proceeds will go toward Newton's foundation and local communities.

"Obviously, you don't want to promote [cigar smoking to kids]," Thompson said. "But the cigar to him personifies victory and Jordan hugging the trophy in the locker room."

Jordan and cigars went beyond the locker room. They became a ritual before every home game in 1993 to help him relax on the drive, which sometimes took an hour to 90 minutes, to the arena in Chicago. Newton told the Atlanta Business Chronicle he began smoking cigars to help him relax after the 2015 season following the Panthers' loss in Super Bowl 50.

But, has Newton shared a stogie moment with Jordan yet?

"It's funny," Newton told the Chronicle. "Every time I'm around him, we're never in an area or a facility to smoke [together]."

The deadline

Newton already had purchased the property in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, just a few blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium when he met with Thompson.

What he didn't have was a lot of time to get the space designed in time for the Super Bowl, a time for peak exposure with thousands visiting the city this week.

Fortunately for him, Meyer and Davis had experience in tight deadlines, having to get the Four Seasons Hotel ready for the Super Bowl in 2017.

"When Cam said are you ready for this, we said, 'Bring it on!'" Davis said.

Newton has been heavily involved throughout the entire process of launching the business. On Wednesday, he was at the facility while FaceTiming with Meyer and Davis as their team scrambled with final preparations.

While tickets are required for this weekend's event, the full opening isn't expected until the NCAA basketball tournament begins mid-March. By then, the group aims to have a membership plan in place for the lounge with options for out-of-town visitors, guests and celebrities.

"[Cam] wanted to create a place where somebody like Denzel Washington could go and relax and let their hair down and smoke a cigar without a lot of paparazzi," Thompson said.

Plenty of celebrities will be on hand this weekend. Among them will be former major league and Auburn star Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas, who is introducing his "404 Vodka."

Other current and former NFL stars such as Larry Fitzgerald, Tony Gonzalez, Josh Norman and Jerome Bettis also are expected to stop in.

"And if Denzel is in town, he's welcome, too," Thompson said.