Tobacco pipes aren’t just for Sherlock Holmes wannabes anymore. Just ask Pete Prevost, owner of the nearly decade-old BriarWorks, one of the country’s only pipe factories.
Originally from Bakersfield, California, Prevost moved to Tennessee in 2005 to be involved in the music industry. He toured with the Grammy-nominated Christian rock band Sanctus Real, spending about 200 days on the road each year. He was looking for a change and he found it in an unlikely place.
After befriending fellow musician (of the band Newsboys) and fellow pipemaker Jody Davis, Prevost became interested in them. He first purchased antiques from stores before making his first from a DIY kit. He made a few more pipes, selling them at trade shows. By 2013, his hobby turned into a business, and he gave up his life of constant touring.
“It’s definitely not an easy transition when you’re someone that has spent so many years on the road and you’re so accustomed to that lifestyle. But at the same time, it wasn’t too difficult because not only was I getting to see the family a lot more, and that makes me really happy, but I was still doing something really creative.”
From there, another friend floated the idea of starting a pipemaking factory.
“I quickly jumped on that and said, I want to get off the road, I need to stop touring, I’d love to do this with you.”
But it wasn’t as simple as just making the pipes. Prevost faced an uphill battle getting his brand recognized and competing for shelf space with 150-year-old pipemakers from overseas.
“It was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be.”
BriarWorks sources the briar root ball of the heath tree, a hard wood which grows only in the Mediterranean, for its pipes. First used in pipe factories in France in the 1800s, it’s now considered to be the industry standard. Prevost and his team receive cut blocks that are customized in a programmed piece of machinery over the course of ten minutes. Once it has its basic shape, the BriarWorks artisans sand and finish them by hand.
The team quickly grew from a warehouse in Nashville, but after four years, Prevost and his coworkers were looking for a change of scenery. So they turned their attention south to the small town of Columbia.
Set about an hour from Music City, about 40,000 residents call the town home. Local shops and restaurants line the downtown square, set around the historic courthouse that looks straight out of a Hallmark movie.
“I had seen this transition happening where there was this new life coming back to downtown Columbia, and I thought, man, this would be such a great spot for our company … we could offer something that doesn’t really exist here.”
The brick building in the historic district is not only their warehouse and workspace but also a retail shop and cigar lounge. Guests can relax on leather couches, play darts or sip on a pint from the beer taps. The lineup is mostly customer-selected, including the classic Coors Banquet alongside brews from Cigar City. Weihenstephaner is also one of the most popular beers. There’s a humidor with carefully curated cigars from the likes of Drew Estate ready to be smoked, along with pipe tobacco.
“Not only have we been able to build the factory side of it significantly since then but the retail side of it has over the past two, two and a half years, kind of exploded down here. It’s become a massive part of our business.”
In the back, he and his team make between 5,000 and 6,000 pipes a year, shipping them worldwide through online sales and in 100 stores. They range in price between $100 and $500, depending on the type.
While most customers are male, there are also women that source pipes from BriarWorks. The age range also varies. “It’s a lot of old dudes that are 60 to 80 years old that smoke pipes. And then there’s a lot of young people.”
Prevost and his team also welcome newbies to pipe smoking and cigars, happily recommending products.
“We gained a lot of loyal customers because of that approach to not being stuffy, not pretentious. If you don’t know anything about pipes and you want to ask us a bunch of questions, we’re not going to be snobby about it. That’s what really helped us grow over the last couple of years.”
But what’s something you won’t see at BriarWorks?
“I’ve tried vaping once or twice, it’s never been my thing. I always reference it musically. I’m more of an analog guy and not a digital guy.”
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