Photo by Sarah Walor
David Johnson of Old Virginia Tobacco Co. in Carytown
The best games of chess aren’t rushed. The same can be said about cigars. And the same can definitely be said about tobacconist David Johnson.
You may know him as David, or Dave. If you’re an old-school Richmonder or a local chess player, maybe he’s Deacon, a nickname from his youth on local football fields, in homage to his playing likeness to the late, great Los Angeles Rams defensive end.
You may just know him as the cool cat who sold you those tasty sticks at Old Virginia Tobacco Co.’s Carytown location, where he’s been a regular figure for about 15 years.
Nonetheless, David Johnson is the epitome of laid-back. From the relaxed pentameter of his speech to his gentle, welcoming aura, he’s just one of those guys you want to meet.
While life at Carytown’s oldest fine tobacco and pipe shop can be hectic, Johnson is a constant beacon of cool.
“I am all about leisure and recreation,” he says, over a dark, rich coffee including two shots of espresso at Lamplighter Roasting Co.
But when your life is encircled by the daily aromatic smile of fine tobacco fog at Old Virginia, how can you not take it easy?
“[Old Virginia] has got character, and it’s very therapeutic,” he said. “When you come in, you can relax. You don’t have to participate in the chatter. You can come in, take a seat, read, and have a smoke, and a smoke is all about chillin’, bringing down the anxiety in a neurotic world.”
Never a self-promoter, Johnson quickly gives credit where credit is due when talking about the store.
“We’ve got a good crew there and we set an atmosphere for people. Wrenn [Mangum], Jim Cox, the manager, they just want you to relax, buy a lot of cigars, study the Bible some – anything that can help you find a form of contemplation and get away from this…”
He stops and takes a pull off the short La Flor Dominicana he brought for the interview, and musingly takes a look around the edge of The Fan, where he grew up.
“…this hustle. That’s where the beauty is.”
The beauty is also in Johnson’s lens on life. For example, take his love of chess, the game that introduced him to cigars and the art of patience at the age of 27. For Johnson, it’s not about the king.
“Pawns. That’s the end game,” he says. “They’re the soul of the game because they have a lot of ambition. They lust to expand.”
Now a gentleman of a certain age, Johnson has seen his share of expansion, especially when it comes to tobacco and public smoking laws. Though he’s one of the lucky few smokers who can work in a smoker-friendly environment, he fondly remembers nights of great meals followed by great smoke.
“I guess all my great cigar memories come from after eating pasta, garlic, great memories when we could smoke inside, like at Mamma ’Zu’s,” he said. “That was
a long time ago. That’s a great memory – when you could smoke inside your favorite restaurant. That was a great experience. That’s always been the happiness.”
But when you live a life like Johnson’s, happiness is all around. Almost like a cloud of sweet, sweet smoke.