Frank Bullara: Where Cigars Meet Charity and Community
The story of how the Bullaras landed in the North Brunswick area did not start off in the most romantic manner. It didn’t begin with a summer vacation, a cruise on the Henriettariverboat or a golf retreat. In fact, it began in a graveyard.
Frank Bullara and his wife, Addy, were living in Long Island, New York, where he was employed as an aircraft mechanic and she did bookkeeping work for a local business. Addy’s parents had lived in North BrunswickCounty in the 1980s and were buried there when they passed.
Frank and Addy came to North Carolina to visit the graves of Addy’s parents. They came down to the area just expecting to remember her parents and to pay their respects. And they discovered, as so many of us have, that Mom and Dad are very often right.
The Bullaras quickly realized that Addy’s late parents were on to something. They found that crossing back over the Mason-Dixon Line was much more difficult that it was on the way down. Their brief time in the North Brunswick area was a lot like sweet tea: once you get the slightest taste, it is hard to understand why everyone up north hasn’t discovered it yet.
“It was a very quick decision. We just fell in love with the place,” says Frank, reminiscing on the time right after their trip to North Carolina. The first things they did when they returned home were to quit their jobs, buy a home at Magnolia Greens and start packing their bags. “This is just a better life for us,” he says. “The traffic, the weather, the people — they are all just better here.”
Three years have passed since the Bullaras made their life-changing decision to move to North Carolina. Although they miss their children and the family and friends they left back in New York, they do not regret their migration. And now that they have had a chance to settle in and make connections in the community, they are feeling very much at home.
About a year ago, Frank started a company called Bugsy’s Cigars. Although he knows quite bit about cigars, Frank’s real passion is people. “What I wanted to do was to create a place like ‘Cheers’ where everybody knows everybody,” he says. “When people come in here, I will sit down with them. No one sits alone in my store.”
Although Frank is the front man, he admits that his business would likely not be very successful without the business skills of Addy. “Without her, I’d be lost,” he says. “She does all the books and keeps the store running.”
Just as he had envisioned, the store has morphed into a neighborhood hangout. Every day at 3 p.m., a small crew collects at Bugsy’s to watch The Sopranos. Wednesday night is movie night. Some of the regulars have joined Frank’s cigar club, where their purchases are tracked so they can keep up with what they have tried and what they like. Additionally, they get discounts on their purchases.
“The customers have turned into my friends,” says Frank.
The store is a place where everyone is welcome to stop in, talk a while, and buy a beer and a cigar (or not really — the fact that the clients want to spend time at the store is truly more important to Frank than selling cigars). Antonio’s is located right next door, and while Bugsy’s does not have a kitchen, if a customer would like to enjoy a meal or appetizer, Antonio’s will bring it right over. “We have a good relationship with Antonio’s. It has worked out well,” says Frank.
One of the client/friend relationships that developed between Frank and a customer has grown into a bigger purpose, a purpose that has drawn in an entire community. When speaking with a client, Frank learned that the man’s son was overseas, fighting the war against terrorism. Frank and other friends of Bugsy’s pulled together and sent a care package to the entire troop to which Frank’s friend belonged. Frank chose to send something in which he found comfort: cigars. And not just a couple. They sent 450 of them for the troop to enjoy on their leisure time.
This year more packages will be sent. Word spread through the community, and now a small army of civilians has culminated to support the army of heroes on the front line.
“People do want to get involved, and I am just tying to help them do it,” Frank says.
In 2009 a package will be shipped every month. The packages will contain all sorts of things from the community: cigars, pictures, letters and other items to make the soldiers feel closer to home. Additionally, individuals will adopt a troop member. Participants will fly a “battle banner” (flag) representing their troop member and will keep it up until the troop member returns home. “It lets [soldiers] know we have not forgotten about them. We’re going to do something for them,” says Frank.
For anyone who may be interested in helping with this worthy effort, keep an eye out for drop boxes at stores like Bugsy’s and Antonio’s. Also, at the top of the Bugsy’s Cigars website (http://bugsyscigars.com) there is a button labeled “Adopt a Troop,” which is linked to a list of the items that are both desired by the troops and are shippable.
Another way that Frank contributes to the community is through his involvement with the Leland Police Association. In 2008 Frank helped to put on what will hopefully develop into an annual golf tournament. The tournament is a captain’s choice (best ball) tournament, held at Magnolia Greens. Money raised at the tournament is donated to the Leland Police Association. The association uses the money to support some of its many community-nurturing efforts.
“They take the money and use it for families in need,” says Frank. For example, at Thanksgiving, turkeys were purchased for families who would have otherwise gone without. The association also helps police officers who are sick or disabled. This year the tournament will be held on April 25.
Larry, Addy and Bugsy’s Cigars have found their place in the sun. The couple did not exactly intend to come to the North Brunswick area to relax and escape the daily grind. They still have a strong internal drive to achieve. The focus has changed, however. Friends and community have become the center of their world. Their business is all about helping and enjoying the company of others. Their charity work is about helping others, and making them feel closer to those who care about them.