2012-12-13 / Business

City’s first hookah lounge bubbles up

By Anna Bitong


CHANGING USE—The former site of a baby furniture store will now house Xhale, the city’s first hookah lounge. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers CHANGING USE—The former site of a baby furniture store will now house Xhale, the city’s first hookah lounge. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Xhale, the first hookah lounge in Thousand Oaks, is set to open in January.

The 18-and-over venue where patrons can smoke shisha, or flavored tobacco, was approved by city permit process manager Marjan Behzadi at a Nov. 29 administrative hearing. The business is at 1414 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.

The hearing was necessary because of objections from three individuals, including a nearby business owner, who are primarily concerned about exposure to secondhand smoke.

Project planner Matt Chang said the decision to approve Xhale was based on the property’s commercial land use designation, which allows for hookah bars.

“We don’t have the authority to deny or approve a project based on health concerns,” Chang told the Acorn this week.

Despite the objections, the decision was not appealed by the Nov. 10 deadline, Chang said, meaning Xhale is going forward.

The 1,500-square-foot hookah lounge and tobacco shop is scheduled to open in mid-January at the former site of the Bellini baby furniture store in the Four Friends Center.

Hookahs, which originate from India, consist of a container of water connected to one or multiple long, flexible pipes through which smoke passes. Shisha smoke smells like the flavors, such as peach, strawberry and apple, on which the tobacco is based.

Operating hours will be from noon to 2 a.m. daily, which is consistent with the hours of similar businesses along Thousand Oaks Boulevard, a staff report said. Behzadi did not take a city staff recommendation to approve shorter hours of operation for the lounge—from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Under the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan, adopted last year, a hookah or cigar lounge can be considered through a special use permit application.

Lounge owners Shubyre Humkar and Ahmad Hadi, cousins from Simi Valley, applied for the permit in August.

“There’s no competition anywhere nearby,” said Humkar, 23, a Cal Lutheran University graduate who inherited the Cig Star smoke shop in Thousand Oaks from his father after he graduated from Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley. He also owns Tobacco Royale shops in Newbury Park and Calabasas. Hadi, 25, ran a smoke shop in Hollywood.

“It’s somewhere where people can relax, have fun and get away from the daily stress of life,” Humkar said.

The venue, which will have dark hardwood floors and five televisions, will serve food and nonalcoholic drinks. Neither the sale and consumption of alcohol nor outdoor smoking will be allowed at the site.

Catherine Beall, owner of the Hummingbird and the Honey Bee spiritual center and bookshop, said she was worried that loitering as well as smoke drifting from the store could cause disturbances at her business 500 feet away.

“I want to ensure the safety and security of my customers and employees as they walk to and from their vehicles, especially during the evening hours,” Beall told the city in a letter before last month’s hearing. “Classes, seminars and workshops are held in the building throughout the entire week, both during the day and at night, and require customers to walk past the proposed hookah lounge.”

Tracey Boyer, who works at the Hummingbird, wrote that continuous smoking at the lounge would affect customers.

“Our clientele have consistently been offended by just a lone smoker loitering outside Supercuts next door,” she said. “The smoke travels all along the building front and whisks in the front door as our customers enter or leave.”

The venue’s ventilation system will be modified so smoke can’t circulate to its neighbors, Chang said.

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