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Interview w/ Santino Christopher Novasio of Crown Hookahs

Crown Hookahs has been the brand to buy in glass hookah bowls and mouth tips for some time now. My personal collection has a few crown products in it and I never want to be without them. Thanks to careful testing and constant product development, their bowls smoke very well while their mouthpieces have great flow and look amazing. I have been very happy to strike up a friendship with Santino and that he allowed me to ask him some questions about his life in the world of hookah.

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We all have one distinct memory that stands out from our start with the hookah hobby; what is that memory for you?

-Probably after I bought my first crappy three hose hookah, I pulled the hose too far and the whole thing went tumbling, dumping quick light coals all over the carpet. I think this is something that every hookah smoker can relate to.

I wish I could deny that, but I’ve been there with my own three hose rotator. So, what made you realize you wanted a career in hookah rather than just as a leisure activity?

-It chose me. I’ve worked at a very successful smoke shop for almost a decade now, and since day one I absorbed every scrap of knowledge I could. The owner, as well as the GM (my father) mentored me, I saw the moves they made, I digested it, and emulated it as well as putting my own spin on it. I saw a hole in the hookah market, and struck with my own innovative and unique product line. Before I was selling hookah products, I bought them. A lot of them. That gave me a unique viewpoint that allowed me to know what my clients would like in terms of a product, and customer service. I knew first hand the things I didn’t like, and the things I really liked, so I translated that into my own operation.

Actually understanding the market firsthand definitely gives you a better foot hold from which to start. You seemed to come out of nowhere and hit the ground running, but there was obviously a lot of work that went into Crown Hookahs before any of us in the online community heard word one from you. I’ve seen a lot of products hit the market that were obviously developed by someone looking at the hookah community from a third party perspective and their products flop because they don’t understand what the smokers want and need. Excluding your own, what is your favorite hookah product on the market today?

-That’s a really hard one, there are several that I like, and I think they bring a lot to the market rather than just a gimmick. The Narbish is my most used hose, and Nuhoses / Fancy hoses added a nice niche to the market. Tangiers tobacco really put themselves on a pedestal compared to all the upstart brands that were the same repackaged Jordanian tobacco. Tangiers Phunnels were a huge step in the right direction of quality products. I like what Hookah John is doing with his bowls. The Kaloud Lotus was also a nice addition to hookah smokers set ups as well. In a sea of replicators and knock off artists, these are the products that really reinvented how hookah smokers operate.

I know my favorites, but if you had to choose just one, what is your favorite product that you make/offer? Which are you most proud of?

-I think the bowls I offer in general serve their purpose. The classic line is my baby, that’s really what set me apart. The Micro Funnel also exceeded expectations. There was no lack of large hookah heads on the market, so I wanted to create something with a very small capacity that smoked well. That was my crowning (ba dum chee) achievement.

The small capacity bowls that smoke like their bigger cousins is definitely what drew me in. I think there was a big call for a bowl like that and it went unanswered for quite a while. Sometimes one person has to take the first step and then more people know the path is safe (profitable) and follow suit. Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the hookah industry and where would you like to see it go?

-I’ve been in the background of the hookah industry for years now, long before Crown Hookahs ever saw the light of the internet. I started selling hookahs, tobacco and other accessories from the brick & mortar store I still help manage to this day. I made several connections that turned into friendships, and I’ve seen several gimmicky products rise and fall as quickly as they hit the pan.

The one thing that bothers me is the proverbial race to the bottom. Every upstart is trying to undercut the last guy, and it comes with a huge cost: Quality. Only a few people in this industry keep pushing the bar as far as the very best, the ones that fail are the ones that push the bar lower with price, and trying to emulate other companies successful products. They see soandso product do well, so they push to find a Chinese version at half the price, slap some pretty packaging on it, and hope to fool the serious hookah smokers with the flashy box or slogan. This brings up why I love this industry so much: The hookah enthusiasts don’t put up with it. They force the hand of the producers and distributors to carry and create quality, and the “price pushers” fall flat on their face. There are several good companies that don’t fall into the race to the bottom, but I would still love to see more stop nickel and diming themselves, and actually put out products that will IMPROVE the hookah smoking experience, rather than pass some gimmicky idea off, expecting to become an overnight millionaire.

With so many different companies out there and what seems like a new upstart every day, what do you bring to the market as a vendor that makes you unique?

-I am one of you. I consume these products, I smoke hookah every day, and I’m always trying to improve my smoke. I understand what you want, in terms of products and service, and I aim to provide that. I also thrive on quality, I try to keep prices reasonable, but I will not cut quality to save a few bucks. Period.

I’d say that mentality and resolve shows through in all of your products. Do you have any projects or new products on the horizon we can be excited about?

-Always. You can guarantee I have at least a half dozen things I’m working on. The thorn in my side is the glass screen, I’m ALWAYS trying to revamp it and make it function as well as it should. I have a few new bowls in the mix, as well as some high end mouth pieces and bowls, and windcovers. I also have been toying with glass tanks for the new Ecig / Vaporizer bang. Probably the closest to being released are glass trays that will fit any KM / most Syrian hookahs. These things take time though, and with growing popularity (Thank you) I’m finding less time to set my guys on new projects. Especially with the success of the Cloud, I can’t find time to work up some new styles of bowls that I’ve been sketching.

All of that said, I am blessed with the success I have. I don’t make a ton of money, I don’t want to. I pay myself $250 a month, the rest gets sunk back into make sure the CrownCrew is getting paid, and can provide for their families, for new developments, new materials to work with, new products, and new research. I can’t thank you (you know, the person reading this) for allowing me to do this. Without you, I wouldn’t be doing this. People often times thank me for putting these products out, the truth is, thank yourself. I couldn’t do it without your support. I get my payment in form of creating wares that improve your smoke, and make you smile.

I remember the first big attempt at glass screens and how much everyone wanted to love them. I’m sure if anyone can figure it out it’s the CrownCrew. All of that sounds great and I can’t wait to see what you do with those trays and the new windcovers.

Your passion is definitely commendable and something that sets the best apart from the rest. That is why I can’t recommend your products strongly enough. Not only are they great and look amazing, but buying them is directly supporting some of the most passionate and talented people making hookah accessories today.

I want to thank you and the entire CrownCrew for all your work and for the many great sessions that I have personally had with your products. So, let’s finish of with the obligatory question that everyone asks at some point. Three flavors to smoke for the rest of your life; what are they?

-Al Fakher Orange, Social Smoke Simply Apple, Tangiers Kashmir Cherry. I think this was the hardest question so far. (Honorable mention to Tangiers Cane Mint, Blue Gumball, Peach Iced Tea, Lucid Choc Cherry, Fakher Mint, Grape w/ Mint, and Grape. Romman Ivory Coast, and Nakhla Sweet Melon & Double Apple.)

Make sure to check out Crown Hookahs and all of their amazing products. You won’t be disappointed.

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